Story and photos by Emily Chang
Many assume ice skating is solely for young people who have the strength, endurance, and agility for such a graceful sport. The combination of a bone-chilling rink, slippery surface, and a natural fear of injury makes skating daunting to the inexperienced onlooker, especially one of advanced age.
Enter Leslie Bryan, 65, and Charles Luce, 72. This Weehawken couple are avid ice skaters at the Richard J. Codey Arena in West Orange. This inspiring duo defies stereotypes of age and ability, confident in their skills as they savor every exhilarating moment on the ice. Skating has had a profound impact on their lives.
The “pleasure principle” draws Luce to the ice. Ever since his mother put him on skates as a young child, he fell in love with the “freedom of flying.” The sport rapidly became one of his favorite winter activities.
Blades of glory
Bryan, on the other hand, harbored a deep hatred for skating after her first childhood experience, devoting her life to a career in ballet. She did not return to the ice until her 50s after meeting Luce, but she refused to let her age or her late start stand in her way. She struggled at first but soon honed her skills and grew fond of the sport. Pleasantly surprised by the positive results, Bryan now refers to skating as her “happy place” and shows up to the rink with Luce almost every day.
“Dance used to fill a certain place in my life,” she said. “Ice skating has fallen into that place.”
Dance remains an integral part of her life. She’s always aspired to learn ballroom dancing and turned to ice dancing after realizing the striking similarities. She convinced Luce to give it a try. Under the guidance of their Olympic ice dance coach, Kenneth Foster, they’ve developed a deep passion for pairs skating.
They’ve mastered the first four dances: the Dutch Waltz, the Rhythm Blues, the Canasta Tango, and the Cha Cha. While they have no desire to compete, they are eager to acquire new skills with each new dance. They are currently focusing on mastering three-turns, a difficult skill that involves turning from forward to backward on one foot, as well as improving their unison.
Figure skating for fitness
Bryan and Luce also appreciate skating’s myriad health benefits. It burns calories, increases the heart rate, improves balance, builds muscle, and strengthens bones. For older people, bone strength is vital in reducing osteoporosis.
Skating “has really helped me focus on other things that I’ve never done in other forms of exercise such as agility, finesse, and grace,” Luce said. He also appreciates the “mental boost.” Skating frees his mind from all of life’s problems.
Bryan sees skating as the “ultimate physical and mental puzzle.” She likes breaking down the mechanics of each movement.
Referring to themselves as “rink rats,” the couple has forged long-lasting relationships with others in the skating community. They often skate in Sun Valley, Idaho, where they’ve made a large circle of friends who share the same interest and dedication to the sport.
U.S. Figure Skating offers programs such as Learn to Skate USA, Compete USA, and Adult Competition Series for older skaters.
For updates on this and other stories check hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter.