Heading to Oly on Ice? Proceed with caution

Michael Looney of westside Olympia helps his daughter, Cara Looney, 5, as they hit the ice for the opening day at the “Oly on Ice” skating rink on the isthmus on the downtown Olympia waterfront on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018.
Michael Looney of westside Olympia helps his daughter, Cara Looney, 5, as they hit the ice for the opening day at the “Oly on Ice” skating rink on the isthmus on the downtown Olympia waterfront on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. Olympian file photo

Oly On Ice, Olympia’s temporary skating rink, has been packed with skaters of all ages — more than 17,000 since it opened Nov. 16.

Many are having fun. A few are getting hurt.

No statistics on the number of injuries were available either from the rink, installed and run for the city by Ice Rink Events, or from local emergency rooms, but The Olympian has heard reports of at least a half dozen people who suffered substantial injuries, including several broken wrists and a broken ankle.

“There’ve definitely been some injuries that have occurred down there, which is unfortunate, but there’s also been a tremendous amount of positive experiences,” said Paul Simmons, Olympia’s Parks, Arts & Recreation director. “We’ve had over 17,000 visitors, which is twice as many as we anticipated.”

Among the injured was Mike Holbein of Olympia, a confident skater who grew up skating and played ice hockey from ages 6 to 16. He broke his left wrist at the rink Nov. 29.

“I did a really simple sideways hockey stop to get off the ice,” Holbein told the Olympian. “The skates were really dull, and so they didn’t cut into the ice. The skates went over a few small gouges in the ice, and then my right foot hit a big gouge, and it spun me around. I put my hand out to stop myself, and I broke my wrist and bruised my elbow.”

Liz Alberti of Olympia, who skated occasionally as a child, broke both wrists Dec. 6. “I don’t even remember falling,” she told The Olympian. “I remember landing.

“I take responsibility for what happened to me,” she added. “I love ice skating. I love it that something fun is happening in downtown Olympia, and I wouldn’t want to discourage that.”

She agreed with Holbein, though, that the ice “was a rougher surface than you’d expect,” and she also had issues with the rental skates, hard plastic boots that fasten with buckles.

“They were rubbing my ankles so bad that it was a sharp shooting pain,” she said. “I thought, ‘This isn’t going to work, and then I thought, ‘I’ll loosen them up and give this a try.’ ”

“They’re not the most comfortable,” agreed Harold Hunter, an Ice Rink Events employee who manages Oly On Ice.

Asked what he’d recommend in terms of protective equipment, he said: “As funny as this sounds, one of the most important things is thick socks. The skates put pressure on the anklebone, and it causes discomfort.”

He said he’s heard a lot of complaints about that and relatively few about the sharpness of the blades. The rink doesn’t have sharpening equipment. “Ice Rink Events sharpens them and sends them to each site,” he said.

Hunter and his staff clean and maintain the ice every hour or so with a small ice resurfacer, quite different than the huge machines used by professional hockey teams. The resurfacer cleans the ice by scraping off a layer. If the ice needs more smoothing, water can be applied, and deeper gouges are patched with snow.

“I’ve had quite a few compliments on our ice, more so than people complaining that it’s rough or choppy,” he said.

Debbie Leung of Olympia, a figure skater who performed at the grand opening, said the ice at Oly On Ice and other seasonal rinks is not as smooth as ice at permanent indoor rinks, such as Sprinker Recreation Center in Tacoma, where she skates regularly.

“The ice is not really smooth even when it’s at its smoothest,” she said. “It doesn’t have the quality of ice to allow for serious figure skating or some of the things I see hockey players do.”

One issue, she said, is that the tent over the ice forms condensation which drips down, causing irregularities.

But she’s happy that there’s an ice rink downtown — at least till Sunday, when it closes for the season.

“It’s a really great thing,” she said. “People with young families are happy to have something to do downtown during the holidays. If you’re going there to socialize and skate around, and for kids to play on the ice, it’s fine.”

She suggests helmets, especially for kids. The rink doesn’t rent those but does offer skate aids, walker-like devices that novice skaters can push in front of them. Hunter has seen people with elbow and knee pads, and he suggests beginners stay close to the wall at first.

Alberti wishes she’d worn wrist guards of the type used for inline skating, but she’s upbeat despite the challenges of managing life with minimal use of her right hand and limited use of her left, where the break was less severe. “I’m getting more dexterous with my left hand,” she said. “I’m probably making new neural pathways.”

To those wondering if they dare give skating a try, Alberti says yes.

“My advice is people should try it, but they should be cautious about getting out on the ice without any support and any protection,” she said.

Hunter also has encouraging words for novices.

“We do get people who have never skated before and say, ‘I want to try this; is it dangerous?’ ’ he said. “My response is, ‘It’s ice, and it’s slippery, and you do have blades on your feet, so it can be dangerous, but there are people out there who do this for the first time every day.’ ”

Not long ago, he was one of them.

“This is my first year with Ice Rink Events,” he said. “I’d never been on the ice till this job.”