The last time I laced up a pair of ice skates was at least 15 years ago and the closest I’ve come to a skating rink since then was when I had front-row seats for an Islanders game.
In high school, my friends and I would occasionally go to the open skating sessions on Friday nights at Cantiague Park in Hicksville (not my idea, but it was something to do). We would skate around for a couple of hours while cheesy ’90s music played in the background. Last Thursday night, I put on a pair of skates for the first time since then and joined about 200 local residents in the first Valley Stream on Ice event at Grant Park in Hewlett.
As I stepped onto the ice for the first time that night, with my photographer anxiously waiting to take my picture, I just prayed I wouldn’t fall down. I slowly completed a lap around the ice, only needing to stop along the boards twice. I looked around to see how everyone else was doing, while also trying to keep my focus on the ice.
I struck up a conversation with South High School juniors Emily Chen and Sidd Garg, who told me they hadn’t skated much before, but thought it would be a fun night out with friends. Sidd said his goal was simply to not embarrass himself, while Emily was proud that she could finally skate without needing to hold onto the wall.
I took a lap around with William Fifield, a village sanitation worker, and his 6-year-old son, Luke. “I roller skate a lot,” William said. “Not too much ice skating.”
Jessica Gallagher, who came with several cousins, said she hasn’t skated in years, and felt safe by the walls. “My ankles hurt,” she said. “Mine too,” I responded.
It was soon after that I learned how to properly tie ice skates, even if I didn’t put it into practice that night. After observing 16-year-olds Brendan Zimmerman and Tyler McDonnell whipping around the ice, I went to talk to them since they seemed like skating pros, and they shared a few lacing tips.
They explained that they have played hockey for several years. “I used to put up an ice rink in my backyard, so that kind of helped out,” said Tyler, who attends Holy Trinity High School.
Both Tyler and Brendan said this was their first time skating this winter, and they enjoyed it thoroughly. “This is fun,” said Brendan, who attends South High. “They should do it more often during the winter. To see all the people come out, it’s really nice.”
The event was organized by Village Clerk Bob Barra, who certainly can hold his own on a pair of skates. The first skating night was supposed to be held last year but it was rained out. A rain out in the winter, go figure.
This year, it was clear and in the low 30s. “Perfect night,” Barra said “Ice was good, temperature was good. Ideal for skating.”
Barra said an ice skating night was the ultimate winter event. He noted that everyone seemed to be having a good time, even those who fell down.
I concurred. There were smiles on everyone’s faces. People of all ages had a good time and skated at all different skill levels. I didn’t fall during the dozen of so laps I made throughout the night, so at least I could say I wasn’t the worst one out there.
Inside, where skaters warmed up around the fire, I spoke with Vanessa John and her daughter, Emilie, 8, who were skating for the first time. “It sounded like fun,” Vanessa said, noting that she got a call from the village about the event. She even critiqued herself for me, giving herself an “A” for effort. “I’d do it again,” she said.
I took a few final laps around the ice talking with Jenna DeGrace before heading in and taking off my skates. The ice was staring to get a little choppy on the sides. I figured I would leave on a high note — having stayed on my two feet the whole time.
The experience was fun, but it was nice to get back into my sneakers. Like Jessica Gallagher said, “My ankles hurt.” But like Vanessa John told me, “I’d do it again.”