The Murk Between Safety and Risk


I fell on the ice, hard. My left elbow and wrist hurt the most, but still the impact vibrated through my whole skeleton. I sat there for a minute, and the coldness soothed me and staved off the instant nausea that the surprise of pain brings.

“Ow,” I said, and I looked up at the teacher, Mark, who circled around me. He seemed a little irritated.

“What hurts?”

I told him and traced the pain along the bones. I tried to get up my usual way — right skate on the ice, right knee bent, left hand on the ice to steady me — but my left wrist crumpled.

Grudgingly, it seemed, Mark held out his hand for my right one, and I pulled myself up.

“You know,” he said, “Sometimes the fear that adult learners experience can make them mess up. I saw you hesitate.”

Mark is a different figure skating teacher than the one I normally practice with. He was teaching me a new move: the mohawk. And he was correct — I was hesitating before transferring my weight, in an instant, from my right forward-skating foot to my left backward-poised foot.

He also has, as a coach, a bit more bravado than Fred, the coach I normally practice with, who has a more methodical and analytical approach to teaching. Not that Fred isn’t daring in his own skating — I’ve seen him and his skating partner wife Melanie perform, and they thrill the audience with their spins and jumps — but Fred gets me to master more fundamental skills before taking the leap into what feels like a huge risk to me.

Mark is more cut-to-the-chase. Here it is; now try it. That’s his method.

Both of their approaches seem sound to me. I have no quibble with Mark’s bravado or Fred’s patience. In fact, it’s good for me to learn from both of them.

I want to be careful and yet I need a push, even a dare. Any person with diabetes who does anything that requires a physical risk finds themselves in this uncharted territory between caution and recklessness. Sure, everyone who takes up figure skating as an adult, and not just me, risks injury. My worry, however, is amplified. It’s not only that I must face a natural fear of falling; it’s also that I have a specific fear of falling, becoming injured, and ending up with two disabilities.

I can’t do anything about my diabetes but manage it. If I hurt myself skating, enough so that I hamper some other bodily function (writing, for example, or walking or even thinking), will I regret my risk-taking?

And, yet, where is the frisson of life, without a regular encounter with some sort of challenge: emotional, professional, physical?

After I righted myself from my fall, Mark said, “Give it another try.” I had been hoping he’d give me a break and we’d move on, perhaps to something more basic and safer. He seemed unperturbed that I had fallen. I tried to absorb some of his matter-of-factness, and I took his cue and tried again. This is no made-for-tv movie, so of course I didn’t ace it. But I didn’t fall either. I kept making mistakes, getting some feedback, and trying again. Finally, the rink’s buzzer signaled the end of the hour.

A week later, I am still testing the status of pain in my left wrist by pressing gently on the scaphoid and radius. An ache around the bones persists. So, too, does the desire to keep skating.

Daily, I try to find a balance between caution and recklessness, safety and risk. Those of us with diabetes are experts in calculations of many sorts.


P.S. Mom, it’s not broken!

Image, “Facing Her Fears,” by (matt) on Flickr via a Creative Commons license.

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Jane Kokernak
10 years ago

Bob, thanks for this. Encouragement can be mutual. I have been skating since my fall but was thinking of taking it easy this weekend. The rink is closed today, but it’s open tomorrow at 8am, and you can bet I’ll be there.
Restarting is everything.

Bob Price
Bob Price
10 years ago

Made me laugh out loud — even though I don’t have diabetes, my wonky left wrist encourages my sloth when I should be practicing cello — sigh. Back to practice, Bob!

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