From Zero to Hero in Seventy Two Hours.

Snatched from the claws of defeat, we ended in triumph.

Our synchronised skating team, Absolutely Adults,  of which I am a member, was concerned about traveling to Belgium in the aftermath of recent events. Four members of a team of twelve had already pulled out, leaving only eight skaters available to try and make a team we were going to be looking pretty pathetic. Furthermore, one of those eight remaining skaters was also wobbling as she didn’t want to be part of such a low scoring team, after all the efforts of the season. Somehow managing to coax her back into the team, then we were back to eight, with one hour of practice left before we departed for Belgium to take part in our first international synchronised skating tournament; talk about Mission Impossible!!  No time for drama or stroking individual egos! Just focus on the job in hand and let’s get on and skate!

The reality was that all seemed lost with the clock counting down to us not being able to take part in the Belgium event.

Enter head synchro coach, Ryan Sowter, who persuaded my daughter Annie and her BF, Maia, to join our team. One of the other skaters, Patrick was just leaving the rink!! He was coerced, read ‘ordered’ back onto the ice and with around fifty minutes of ice time available , we started to rehearse our routine, against all odds, we just might pull this out of the bag, despite our feeling that we were finished before we had started.

I had been adamant that I was going, at any event, for my team and for the people of Belgium; I wanted to show my solidarity, come what may.  Despite all odds, and various skaters leaving the rink, we, the remaining skaters, were going to make this happen, nothing more needs to be said, that’s the reality and we had fifty minutes to make his happen or fail in the process.

Fast forward to the morning of the event and my own two practice run throughs were pretty dire! Hard ice(!) and becoming disorientated with different people on the ice, left me needing to pull it out of the bag for the main event.  After hanging around for hours and hours, we were on!

Our new team skated really well with the words of coach Ryan still ringing in our ears, ‘enjoy your routine and enjoy the experience’ We increased our personal best from around 17 at Nottingham, UK to a medal earning score of 21.52!!  This was a massive achievement to the end of our season only made possible by our three ‘guest’ skaters who skated down to our level and used our routine as a warm up for their technical four and a half minute routine some time later the same afternoon!

I’m not ashamed or embarrassed by the photos that I subsequently posted of our new team’s success.  Why should I be and who in their right mind would want us to play down our fantastic achievement?!

I am elated and want to share our  team success for Absolutely Adults and for GB. This could have been so different had Ryan not intervened at the eleventh hour – everything else is BS. We could have simply walked away over the pressure of recent events, but we each took the decision to take part. Personally, despite having an autistic son who has only ever been left once before in his twenty two years,  I felt drawn to an event where the organisers were desperately willing us to attend, simply trying to hold the event together.

Ironically, everything seemed stacked against us from the start. From the four team members who withdrew from the event to the hotel cancelling the rooms for half of the skaters who had decided to take part(!?) and a good friend’s car being towed away early on Saturday morning (LOL!) – it was as if we were really meant to not have come and I even envied those team mates who had bailed and who would still be in bed in the UK!!  Yet, our end result was success, a real feeling of solidarity towards our Belgium neighbours, and a fantastic experience that I will never forget.

It may only be seventy hours, but the feeling as we stood on the ice, holding hands in one large circle for the people of Belgium will live with me forever. ‘Nobody will take that away from me,’ as the song goes!

I really want to take my hat off and to congratulate Maia Burgess, Annie Hodgson and Patrick Ward for stepping in despite having less than one hours practice time to make what was going to be ‘another country team pulling out’ to end up as a fantastic GB performance ‘against all odds’.

Ryan Sowter and George Strachan need to be saluted for not giving up on the remaining Adults with just one hour’s rehearsal left and for finding a way to make it happen – I doubt that at twenty two, I would have had the single-mindedness  and integrity to focus on the problem at hand, ignore the personal distractions, and work towards a solution, as they both did: respect is truly due!

My personal takeaways from Belgium?

I had a truly memorable three days. There was a particularly special moment for me, holding hands with my daughter on the ice during the routine. I’ve often suggested to her that we should dance together on the ice, only to be met with the usual retort from an eighteen year old daughter! Thanks to the scenario that we had been forced into,  she had no alternative, having been co-opted onto the ice, she had to hold my hand ….   with a smile!

People of Belgium, you will always now have a special place in my heart, I salute you for your endurance in the face of extreme adversity and I thank you for my special memories.

 

 

Lights! Camera! Action!

The resulting video was the result of an initial email enquiry by ITN to me whilst I was up in Lancashire; ‘We want to come down and shoot a piece on SPICE, Special People on ICE and the temporary rink closure’ said the voice down the phone when I called. ‘Great’ I had said, ‘we run every Sunday from 10:30 till 12:15 fifty two weeks a year’

The voice at the other end of the phone listened and then said, ‘We want to come tomorrow around 1pm so we can run it on the evening’s show at 6 pm’!!

The good people of SPICE sprung into action and over the next 18 hours we received texts and emails from parents and volunteers confirming that ‘somehow’ they would be there to support us.

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As the video demonstrates, we indeed had a great turnout from some diehard members and volunteers and we were able to put on a great show, even managing the ‘Hokey Kokey’ as a finale!!

The fun and excitement we had yesterday obscured the reason why we had all hustled to be there.  Our rink is closing in October with the promise of a shiny new refurnished rink but with no temporary provision.

In the eyes of the council, there’s no money to provide anything temporary but where does that leave us, SPICE, the 160 young hockey players of the Slough Jets junior program, the four synchronised skating teams, the elite skaters as well as the good people of Slough, whilst this takes place?

Surely in 2016 we can explore some options, a phased reconstruction, an empty building on the Slough Trading Estate, a temporary rink such as those that spring up round the country during the holiday season?

I can’t but help feel that if our council would only accept my invitation to come down and see SPICE in action, then they would at least understand why we are so passionate about keeping what has taken fourteen years to build, whilst the refurbishment takes place.

So my message to  Slough Borough Council is clear; come down and meet us. Speak to our members and parents and let’s share both sides of the story and develop a plan.

We’re here every Sunday, 52 weeks a year, well that is of course, until the rink shuts in October.

SPICE on ITV

If It Ain’t Broke!!

Every Christmas I have a few days off. During that time, when it may be a bit too cold or wet to go out for a ride on my bike, I turn my attention to my website.

A message in the admin area always catches my attention – please update to the latest version as there are security vulnerabilities, yada, yada yada!!  Okay, so I start tinkering with the back end of the site which incidentally, is created in Drupal.

Now, to be honest, a good friend of mine created it with me sitting at his side nodding that I understood what he was doing – he got me on the Drupal bus! (Thanks Jules!)

This Christmas was no exception. Turkey, mince pies and website tweaking!  This time though, when I say that I broke it, I mean that I really broke it!  Like really really broke it.  ‘Well surely you backed up the database and could execute some Mysql command to get it all back?’ I hear you say?

Well, no and so I ditched it. I decided that there would no more messing about with Drupal and not fully understanding how to tweak the CSS or even run updates in maintenance mode.  I took the plunge and built a new site in WordPress.

I have to say that I’ve been really impressed with the simplicity of WordPress, the tons of useful plugins that are available, and ‘touch wood’ we’re rocking!

You’ll find my new website at http://www.spiceskating.org and I’d be really grateful if you’d check it out and if you like it, please leave a comment.

SPICE website

Next Christmas, I think I’ll put my name down for some overtime!!