Sunday, February 28, 2010

FirstSk8 ...

Addendum: Forgot to take the camera to the rink, so this photo of spring in Portland will have to do ...

After skating, a two-hour nap ...

I feel like today was my first real skate since my first surgery in July. Although I did skate several times between the two PAOs, I never really pushed myself because I knew it was only a matter of time before I would be having the second PAO, so why bother?

I waited 3.5 months this time (vs. 3 months, not to mention my ill-advised foray at 8 weeks) to be sure things were healed and so I wouldn't have to worry about falling. It was very different from that 8-week attempt back in September -- I could actually take a proper push, glide on one foot without falling over, and skate without being propped up.

I was able to solo all of the forward dances (Dutch, Canasta, Rhythm Blues, Cha Cha; also the forward parts of the Fiesta and Swing Dance). I could do them at about 2/3 speed and pattern size (note that patterns are already small since we skate in a small rink, so it was perfect for me) and was able to get through an entire 2 minute social dance tune for each. Edges were shallow, extension was non-existent and I felt really slow and somewhat off balance.

Skating backwards is challenging because I don't have the muscle control to point my free toe down consistently, so catching my heel is a likely possibility. Doing so would pitch me right onto one of my hips, so I am a little bit freaked out by it. However, I did do some three turns (first on two feet, then on one, slowly) and some backward Russian stroking (slow!). Mohawks are still seemingly impossible because of the turnout required. I did one very slow kilian choctaw and a very slow blues choctaw. My hips hurt during and after but I was able to do them. I was able to do some darn good forward outside loops, but not forward inside.

I skated the full hour (with liberal breaks to socialize and rest) and feel like I got something of a workout. I am surprised by my stamina - much better than I expected, although nowhere near what it used to be. I was able to get through several patterns of the dances I attempted. Pain didn't start until halfway through the session, and it was tolerable. My hip flexors now hurt - both of them - the right more than the left actually even though it is more healed. That may be because I use my right leg more - I am pretty sure I am favoring my left leg.

For a first attempt it was surprisingly good. The hard part was not doing the Westminster Waltz and Paso Doble and Quickstep when they were played -- dances I love to do - but they are way above my current skill level and will be for some time. I had to stand at the wall during my favorite dances and it killed me. That's one good reason to skip the dance sessions for a while and just work on basic skills at public sessions. I have a couple of months until school is out, so the daytime public sessions will be empty. By the time school is out I may be able to attempt some mid-level dances.

Patience is a virtue. Repeat. Patience is a virtue. Repeat.

P.S. - Doug and Patti - I really missed you today! Healing thoughts...

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Normaler and normaler

I had not seen my physical therapist in almost two weeks until yesterday. She is concentrating on my back and abs more than my hips. Abs in particular are weak (to be expected, she says, with this type of surgery). But the old hip joints themselves are doing OK on their own.

Last night I walked around the Portland Home and Garden Show for two hours before getting tired. Mostly it was my back that hurt and I blame the heavy bag I was carrying. Hips were OK.

I have not been doing my exercises very religiously the past two weeks and need to get going again. Life has just been too busy.

All this is leading up to my plan to get on the ice tomorrow at the social dance session. It will be safe - everyone knows me and everyone is skilled so they won't be running into me. It won't be crowded. The mall rink is warm. I have no idea what to expect from myself other than "not much."

I plan to skate the social session at Adult Nationals in mid-April so this will give me an idea of how that will go. The A.N. session will be more crowded and full of people who don't know me or my limitations, so I will need to feel less vulnerable and more confident by then. While there will be a couple of friends at A.N. who have volunteered to help hold me up (namely L and K), I would like to be able to do the easier dances with any competent dancer by then. I'll be wearing the butt pads and it will be obvious that I'm a beginner, so I'm sure they'll all be nice to me. It's a goal anyway - the 5-month post-LPAO goal many of the hip chicks try to achieve.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Thoughts on the Olympic free dance

In the stands ...

A beautiful day in Canada ... after walking half a mile uphill to the venue, my hips were OK!

Before reading this post, please read the prior post.

There have been a lot of sour grapes and displays of poor sportsmanship recently from certain competitors in the men's and ice dance events. The following is one judge's humble opinion; note that I was a spectator and that my view was from a vantage point much different from the judges'. Perhaps they saw things I did not see. Being in the arena live, I certainly saw things that TV viewers did not see.

Keep in mind that it is nearly impossible to "judge" figure skating while watching on TV. You can not see the differences in speed, and you often have no way to tell where in the rink the skaters are. Without this perspective it is difficult to comment on skating, in particular ice dancing, which is judged on subtleties that just can't be seen on TV.

Lucky enough, I was in the arena live for the free dance final. Here are my thoughts.

Live, the Canadians were mesmerizing and skated perfectly. You couldn't help but love their program. However, to an ice dance purist, both this program and their "Umbrellas of Cherbourg" program from two seasons ago lacked music with a continuous and distinct rhythmic beat. They often skated to the melody. They did it so well, however, that only someone expressing sour grapes would use it to conclude they "did not dance" and did not deserve the marks they got (as stated by the Italian team). This is a new age for ice dancing at the elite levels, and the sport is progressing past the old ways of thinking. Stay tuned for still more changes next year as the CD and OD merge. While I don't like that decision, I realize that to progress, ice dancing can't stay stuck in the past just for the sake of tradition.

I also think Charlie and Meryl could have been first in the free dance, if not overall. This is not nationalistic bias, because I was happy that the Canadians won. Meryl and Charlie have different strengths than the Canadians (more technically demanding program and more intricate and difficult transitions vs. better unison and amazing chemistry). So while I would have "placed" the top two teams opposite the outcome (if I were placing them, which I would not be if I were judging), either outcome was fine with me. The top two teams were in the top two spots and it could go either way. It was wonderful to see the Canadians win gold on their home ice. Both teams should be proud of pushing the sport to a new level of excellence.

The Russians' footwork was sloppy and shallow, their spin was slow and traveled, and his twizzles turned into a spin, among other problems. Their lifts were assisted by cords on her costume. Their transitions were slow and unoriginal. Their musical interpretation was robotic. The were substantially overmarked, in my opinion. They should have been fourth, or even fifth.

It was Ben and Tanith who got screwed last night, and they were as gracious about it as they could have been, a refreshing change after the poor sportsmanship we've seen from others during these Olympic games. They should have been third in the free dance in my opinion, and that should have translated to a bronze medal.

Just one humble dance judge's opinion ... Terri, reporting live from Vancouver

24 Hours at the Olympics ...

A standing ovation for our skaters ...

My hips survived 24 hours in Vancouver -- tons of walking, stair climbing, standing, and sleeping on a hard couch at a friend's house. Well worth it for the experience of a lifetime - seeing the Canadians win gold in ice dance for the first time with a beautiful performance.

I have to say kudos to Vancouver and to Canada for hosting a calm, organized and friendly Olympics. Everyone in Canada was helpful and happy to have us visit their country, if only for a day. We had gorgeous weather as well for our 24 hours in Vancouver - crystal clear blue skies and warm temperatures. We purchased a few souvenirs, and I have to say, I love the color scheme of these olympics. The various greens and blues in the jackets worn by the volunteers (and purchased by us as t-shirts and jackets) were gorgeous and showcased the natural beauty of the host country.

As for the ice dance competition, well, as you know I am an ice dancer and a judge of ice dancing. As a figure skating judge, I am forbidden from commenting in an online forum about an event that I have judged. Lucky enough, however, I was not judging the Olympics, but merely a spectator. So I can share with you my thoughts on the ice dance event, and will do so in my next post.

It's hard for many casual observers to understand figure skating, the new judging system, and in particular the esoteric ice dance event. Whether or not you believe ice dancing is a legitimate sport (and this is something I could write an entire post about, but will save that for later), it is a combination of art and athleticism which can be judged. Yes, judging is subjective, but all sports have a component of subjectivity. Officials are human beings, not robots.

Figure skating, with its off-ice drama, sometimes gaudy costuming, and musical component, is often criticized more harshly than other sports for its "subjectivity." Often those criticizing don't realize that athletic technique is involved, and there are a plethora of rules. The average fan may not understand them but the judges do. Sometimes judges don't agree with the rules set by the ISU, but our job is to enforce the rules of the sport as they are written, not as we wish they were written. Often outcomes that fans don't understand make perfect sense to skaters, coaches and officials based on the rules of the sport.

An element might look good to the untrained eye, but might still be done with incorrect technique or may not be what the rules require. Judges following the rules are sometimes booed by spectators who don't realize that the skater has done the wrong elements, or has done elements with poor technique.

I think overall with the advent of the new judging system we have seen fairer outcomes but of course it is still possible for judges to mark their favorites high and the others lower. That doesn't necessarily change the outcome, since the score is not solely attributable to the judging panel -- the technical panel also impacts the score -- but it might.

Yes, sometimes there is nationalistic bias in figure skating. Less so than in years past with the new judging system. Sometimes judges make honest mistakes. For example, in the men's short program one judge gave Jeremy Abbot's single axel (which was meant to be a triple axel) a GOE of +1. Judges are required to give a -3 in this case because a double or triple axel is required in the short program. Bias? I doubt it. This was an honest mistake, but it happened and can be seen in the event protocol.

Judges in the United States go through intensive training to learn the intricate rules of the sport. Judges are not paid and most pay for their own training, which can run in the thousands of dollars. Most fans are not aware of this.

Bias and poor calls/refereeing/judging can happen in other sports as well. How many times has a football, basketball, or hockey game outcome hinged on the calls of the officials? How many fans have cursed the "unfair" calls of the referee/umpire in these unquestionably "real" sports when the outcome did not go the way of their favorite team?

Then there is figure skating. It features by necessity the same "subjective" officiating as most other sports, along with rules that are poorly understood, a scoring system that is new and complex, and subtleties of technique that those who have never skated can't really compreheand. Add in makeup, sequins, music, and the off-ice drama of some of skating's more interesting personalities. Stir in the sour grapes, public poor sportsmanship and accusations of "cheating" by those who did not get a medal in the color they felt they deserved. It's a recipe for the average viewer to be at once fascinated and disgusted with figure skating.

Those of us who judge skating take it seriously. We want to judge our best for the benefit of the skaters. We are human beings with opinions and preferences and not computers, but we want the outcome to be correct. We go to schools and seminars during our free time to educate ourselves on the new rules and spend our weekends and vacations in cold and dirty ice rinks located hours from our homes, often getting up at ungodly hours and driving there in the dark, judging 7-year-old Michelle Kwan wannabes and young dance teams who can barely keep time to the music. We occasionally get to judge something glamorous such as a national championship, but mostly we are in the trenches with the skaters and see the reality of the grueling training and potential for injury; the repeated falls, bruises, blood, sweat, and hours of repetition to learn new skills. We judge because most of us skated too, and we know that skating combines art, athleticism, music, and theater into a sport that is unlike any other. We love it and want to judge it fairly.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Comments on the Olympic Compulsory Dance

Some of the hip chicks have asked me to comment on the Olympics, since I judge ice dancing, singles and pairs. While this has nothing to do with hip dysplasia, it is timely since I leave tomorrow morning to fly to Vancouver in order to watch the ice dance final. I just finished watching the original dance.

First a caveat - TV makes it very difficult to see the subtle differences between the top teams, especially during compulsory dance, even for someone trained to judge ice dancing. So I am basing my comments on what could be seen on television. Seeing it live would make the analysis much more detailed, but unfortunately I was not there!

The following was written after the compulsory dance, before tonight's (amazing) original dance. Shelley asked me why Tanith and Ben were scored so low, and how the top teams differed.

"The top 4 teams are within a few points of each other, so really it's very close. None of them were scored low - these were all really high scores for compulsories. None of the top teams made (major) mistakes, so it was a matter of speed and pattern size (which you really can't see on TV), depth of edge, and expression of the tango.

My opinion, as an ice dance judge: I think the Russians and Canadians did all of those things best (they are and should be essentially tied). Meryl and Charlie in third didn't have as much tango expression - in particular, the relationship between the two of them. Tanith and Ben in fourth looked a bit less secure during the first pattern and didn't show as much tango expression. I thought also they had a few timing issues, but it's hard to tell on TV."

That's about as much as I can say without seeing it live. I think the judging was fair based on the detailed results and what I could see on TV. I definitely think the original dance tonight was judged fairly.

Don't miss the free dance tomorrow!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

3 Months (LPAO)

I just realized that my handicapped parking sticker expires March 1. Lucky thing I no longer need it.

I am at 3 months post LPAO and 7+ months post RPAO. I had a breakthrough the past week after spending 4 days in the desert. Lots of warm weather, swimming, stretching and walking. I can walk a mile (probably farther but did not try). I was not race walking, mind you, but strolling. Still, it's improvement. Oh, almost forgot ... on Valentine's day I went to a club and danced. Wearing high heels.

My left leg's stiffness is better, but ROM is still limited. There isn't really pain, but there is weakness and lack of flexibility. I still need a few steps to get going when I first stand up from a chair. My limp is about a 3 most days on a scale from 1 to 10, but I can walk pretty darn fast despite the strange gait. Some days my limp is a 1, and other days it's a 5. It just depends.

My right leg is better too. I can stand up from a low chair using only my right leg and no arms, and I can repeat this about 5 times in a row. I don't think most normal people (meaning those who have not had PAOs) can do this ... so my skater quads must be waking up from their muscle amnesia.

Friends who haven't seen me since late January (at Nationals, when I was just off crutches and using a cane) will be seeing me next week when Perry and I go on our Whirlwind 24-hour Olympic Extravaganza trip. They told me that I would have to walk about 300 yards to get from the bus stop through security at the arena, and perhaps I should arrange for a wheelchair. A wheelchair?! Ah, how far I have come! They will be amazed when they see me walking on my own, and able to walk pretty darn fast too.

And now a word from our sponsor: Go Team USA!!!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

At least I know how to fall ...

I was talking to my ice dancing partner the other day about getting back out on the ice (still a month away) and he asked me if I was going to freak out the first time I fall. "Nah! I'm tough!" I thought.

Well, today I got a sneak preview when I took a spectacular fall on the wet sidewalk in the rain. I was just walking along when my heel slid out from under me (unknown to me, the heel of my shoe was dangerously worn out). Up went both my legs and down went I, squarely onto my butt, but with the presence of mind to break my fall with my arms and avoid a direct hit to my hips.

Other than the embarrassment, it wasn't too bad. I got up immediately (as skaters do to avoid getting run over), picked up my purse, took stock of my aches and pains (knowing they will be far worse tomorrow), and kept right on walking, to the amazement of onlookers who didn't even have time to rush over and help. I was limping when I got up, of course, but no worse than I had been before I fell down! I am not sure if the onlookers knew that, or if they figured the fall caused the limp.

Truth be told, it wasn't a big deal for my hips. I now have an ice pack on my right shoulder, which broke the fall. My back twisted and is a little sore. My hips feel absolutely fine, even though my legs did kind of get pulled - I figure I will have more pain tomorrow somewhere in the hip region.

In some ways I am relieved to know that I can take a hard fall and get up and walk away from it without a trip to the emergency room. It did not jar any screws loose or necessitate finding my crutches in the garage.

Tomorrow I will probably be sore all over, but that would happen regardless of prior hip surgeries. In any case, I survived this little bump in the road. The offending shoes are in the trash!

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Gluteus Medius is connected to the Piriformis ...

Today is the actual 7 month anniversary of my RPAO.

On Friday my PT watched me walk up the stairs with a smile on her face, then frowned when I got to the top and started walking down the hallway. I did the stairs just fine without holding the handrail and had no observable limp, then limped noticeably when walking on a flat surface. By the way my body was moving, she diagnosed that my left Gluteus Medius is weak. This is all consistent with the piriformis/hamstring/sciatic nerve issue I have been having as "it's all connected in there" and "it was all significantly disturbed during surgery."

She is having me build up the gluteus medius using a variation of the forward straight leg raise exercise shown here:

I am supposed to do 3 sets of 20 with no weight other than my body weight every other day. I did that and could not walk the rest of the day or the next day, so clearly I am very weak! This exercise was much easier on my right side at this stage in my recovery so evidently that gluteus medius was not as compromised by the first surgery.

When I was skating (up to just before surgery in July) I used to have huge, clearly visible muscles on the side of my iliac crest (which is exactly where the GM should be). There is nothing there now at all, not even a bump, so clearly the muscle has atrophied. Not sure why it's only a problem on my left and not my right, since both used to be huge and now both are invisible. Hmmmmm.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Eleven Weeks (LPAO)/Seven Months (RPAO)

Happy birthday to my dear husband Perry, who is eligible for sainthood after being married to me before, during and after two PAOs in one year. Believe it or not, I haven't always been so pleasant to be around during this odyssey.

On that note, today's update will discuss the not-so-positive side of things, because sometimes I get sick and tired of being "in recovery" since last July.

Overall I have had very positive results, but there are still things I can not do. I originally made progress quickly but I have not yet progressed beyond a certain point. I am lucky to not have any major complications, but my lifestyle and abilities have definitely changed since a year ago. I still have to make compromises in order to make it through the day. I get tired and sore and cranky. I avoid certain things - like walking more than a couple of blocks and carrying things and standing for long periods and bending over.

Righty is now at 7 months and still not back to normal. Granted I didn't really work very hard at rehabilitation while in the early recovery stages from Lefty, but now I have to get back to it. Hip flexors are still very weak despite working them in the gym. I can do most everyday things without pain or limitation, but my flexibility is still very poor so skating will be a challenge. I can climb stairs just fine, but if I have to take a big step up I can not do it without using my hands to help my right leg (and I don't even try with my left). I haven't been able to walk very far to test Righty since Lefty can't go the distance. So Righty is definitely behind where a 7-month-post-PAO hip would normally be due to all this "waiting for Lefty."

Lefty is now at 11 weeks and doing about as well as I would expect. My PT confirms that Lefty is weaker than Righty was at this point and will take longer to rehab. It's really too early to tell if there will be any long-term limitations and how it will all shake out.

I want to start yoga in the next few weeks to work on flexibility for both hips as well as balance. As I predicted, it is more difficult to do things with two bad legs than it was after my right PAO, when I had one bad and one good leg. I felt pretty confident then. Now Righty is my "good" leg and it's just not all that good. I am therefore a lot more risk averse during this recovery. The thought of skating at 8 weeks scares the crap out of me, although I thought nothing of it during the first PAO recovery.

All of this is just as expected. What I didn't expect was how tired I would be of all of this some days, while full of optimism on others. For example, the other day I was able to put my pants on while standing up for the first time. I've had to sit down to get dressed before now. This tells me my strength, balance and flexibility are improving on my left leg. But it doesn't get me much closer to doing the Cha Cha Congelado -- or even the Dutch Waltz.