By Left Field 

(ISN) – My neck may be the equivalent of a six storey apartment building with severe infrastructure issues, but it won’t stop me from skating. I had quite the procedure on the fourth floor 24 years ago when they replaced a disc in my neck with surgically prepared cow bone to deal with a couple of spurs that had me headed for a wheelchair. The long-term prognosis was as good as can be expected, so kudos to neurosurgeon Dr. Brian Hunt and the crack team at Lions’ Gate Hospital in North Vancouver for keeping me upright and mobile all of these years.

Unfortunately, the ravages of Father Time and the failure to treat my body as a temple in need of constant maintenance has led to structural problems above and below the floor that was replaced. The gaps between the beams, uh, discs, are shrinking, and as of last November, starting to shift. That has resulted in around the clock neck pain, generally accompanied by some form of headache from hell. Although I’ve been accused of having a few loose girders in the upper floors in the past, it’s not a stretch to say the old six floor condo that runs between my shoulders and my head ain’t what it used to be. So I finally sought some form of relief that didn’t involve a prescription pad after my doctor glibly pointed out that they are still a ways from perfecting neck replacements. I’m determined to wring as many years out of the old apartment building as I can before I’m designated for heritage preservation.

As I write this, I am a couple of weeks away from a second cortisone steroid cocktail injection that the specialist says should make a significant improvement. The first shot a couple of weeks ago felt just like any other needle, until a strange sensation of pressure kicked in to the point that it felt like they were inflating a balloon in my neck. Fortunately that passed after a few seconds, much like, ironically, the stiff neck that followed the procedure for a few days.

The good news is two-fold; not only did I manage to cross two more drugs off my bucket list, but the doctor who performed the poking assured me the shots will enable me to continue skating. Now that may not seem like much to most folks, but for me it was much more than a just a reprieve from the inevitable wrecking ball.

There’s a long list of people to thank for getting me out on the ice to be able to experience the exhilarating sensations of gliding, turning, stopping and moving backwards on a frozen surface with metal blades attached to your feet. First and foremost, it was my wife, eight years younger and thirty years fitter, who decided a few years ago that we should learn how to skate. I had just turned 60 at the time, long haunted by memories of a boyhood in Montreal where I never learned to navigate my way around the backyard rinks and ponds that were such an important part of winter for all of my friends.

So off we headed to the local rec centre, conveniently located a two-minute drive from our home. (truth be told, everything is a two-minute drive away in Sooke) We laced up rented skates with much trepidation, fastened helmets from the help yourself bin with thoughts of someone else’s head lice nesting in our hair and gingerly tiptoed onto the ice. We managed to get through the first few lessons in one piece by clinging to the boards in terror whenever there was a break in the drills. We made progress every week, and by the end of the first session of lessons, we had our own skates, our own lids, and a newfound sense of accomplishment and confidence that has us eagerly awaiting the next set of lessons, determined to attempt to master hockey stops and the backward crossover.

The most telling testament to what a difference skating has made for us is the metal plate and 10 screws that adorn the interior of my wife’s left wrist after she broke it in five places skating into the boards backwards during our second year of lessons. She was back on the ice as soon as the surgeon gave her the green light, a little nervous at first, but hell bent on continuing. We have just embarked on our fourth year of lessons, with sessions in the fall and again during the winter. We also take in the Tuesday night public skate when our schedule permits, although watching kids less than half your size and fifty years younger whiz by like they have jet engines attached to their skates can be deflating at times. Nonetheless, if you can ignore the music it’s fun to skate just for the fun of it, although we tend to leave as soon as the lights are turned down and the teenage hormones begin to take control of the ice.

We have been blessed with different instructors for almost every session, ranging from young enough to be our grandchildren to much closer to us in age, and they have all been absolutely fantastic. Each one brings an amazing level of patience, a different area of focus and their own unique personality to the lessons that leaves a lasting mark, and pumps us up for the next set of challenges, strides and strokes.

I tip my helmet to the fine folks at Sooke Seaparc Leisure Centre for continuing to accommodate adult lessons for sometimes just a handful of us old-timers at a time, despite the pressures of having to schedule ice time for youth hockey, kids lessons and figure skating. You have all made a huge difference in our lives and brought the bride and me closer together, and that’s no easy task when you consider who she’s married to.