December 20, 2018 | 11:00am ET
BY Hannah Spraker, The Fourth Period

WINGING IT: MY EXPERIENCE AT THE RED BULL CRASHED ICE QUALIFIER

 
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TORONTO, ON -- About a month ago, I was asked if I wanted to do a piece on the Red Bull Crashed Ice Qualifier in Buffalo, New York and my experience there, and I immediately said yes. I’ve watched this competition for a few years now and to do a story on it seemed like a great opportunity. Little did I know, I would be competing in said qualifier, which I did not realize until roughly a week and a half before. Yikes.

Growing up in sunny Southern California, skating is really not our forte. We don’t spend our winters playing pond hockey with the neighbours. We walk barefoot down to the beach, Pedros tacos in hand, and spend winter days out on the water in the surf, at least from my neck of the woods in San Clemente.

I know how to skate, as I picked up playing beer league hockey a couple years ago in California, but upon moving to Toronto I noticed something very different when it comes to beer league. Rookie league in Toronto... not the same as in California. Not by a long shot. I figured that it would be different and players would be a bit more advanced, but ‘a bit’ is way ahead of the curve. Rookie league here is roughly the equivalent of Gold league in Anaheim. So imagine the shock when this Bronze Leaguer by California standards is told she’s competing in the qualifier for Red Bull Crashed Ice.

Keep in mind, since moving to Toronto I’ve laced up my skates maybe twice in the last year and had no time to practice before hitting the ice in Buffalo. Scared out of my mind was an understatement. I didn’t know what to expect, all I knew is odds were I was going to make a fool of myself, but it was a once in a lifetime experience and I was going to make the best of it.

Now for those of you who are unfamiliar with the event, Red Bull Crashed Ice basically consists of four skaters racing at a time on a 2,000 ft downhill track, skating up to 50mph, shoulder to shoulder, and whoever makes it to the bottom the fastest is the winner. Intense, right? No big deal.

So off I go to Buffalo, palms sweating, heart racing, wondering if they have EMT’s on site – because with my luck, I was sure I would be getting hurt. I know Red Bull gives you wings, but I was really winging this whole thing. The qualifier took place at Buffalo Riverworks arena, and luckily for me, it was done on flat ice instead of a downhill track, (sigh of relief there).

So here’s how it all went down: I walked into the arena, walked up to the sign in booth where they were giving out free Red Bull and directed me to the locker room, because nothing calms the nerves like a big can of caffeine. I dropped my bag and checked out the group going before me in the rink. The ice was split down the middle and there were two obstacle courses that were mirrored. Skaters race each other skating in and out of cones, jumping over hurdles, diving underneath them, all without touching any of them, and recording your best time. Easy enough, eh?

To my right, the girls who were competing in my group were also up against the glass, watching and wondering. We watched as these guys made turn after turn with ease, leaping over the hurdles and we stood there dumbfounded. I was relieved that I wasn’t the only one wondering if they could clear the jumps. The cuts in the ice on each turn were brutal and I couldn’t help but laugh at myself that I did not belong here. Fish out of water, big time.

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I followed the rest of the girls in my group to the locker room. I felt like it was the first day of high school all over again. Would they be friendly? Would there be an elitist vibe going on? I had no idea what I was walking into but all of five minutes into getting acquainted with these girls we were already getting each others instagrams and emails. Big exhale. These girls came from all over, Toronto, New York, Boston and everywhere in between. Some had played hockey in University, others playing rec for quite some time, either way we were all cheering each other on, which from the get go, made this way more fun and light hearted for me.

So we take our group selfie in the locker room and head out to the ice. They gave us a few practice runs at the course. For others, it really helped, for me it just meant I was going to be more sore the next day. After all it is, “crashed” ice.

More cans of Red Bull on the ice underneath the infamous Red Bull arches where we gathered and one by one were called up by number to participate in a given heat. Now there were only seven girls in our group which meant someone had to race alone, go figure it was me, so all eyes in that place were on me as I went up for my first heat.

My strategy for the first run was not speed, but just try to clear all the obstacles, and try to fall as minimally as possible. Well, the falling was a guarantee, but I cleared the first hurdle, the second, dove under the third and made my jump for the fourth, and my skate barely caught the tip of the barrier. Disqualified for that round.

I did not once have my heart set on qualifying, but I wanted to see if I could do it, and even though I had the worst time of anyone for the group, I was proud that I almost finished the run without touching anything. It’s harder than it sounds and athletes who are phenomenal skaters were still crashing into the barriers and cones, so I was feeling decent after the first round.

So I’m sitting there, winded, wounded, and sore already and I hear someone ask me if I played for the Lady Ducks in Anaheim. Weird question, I thought, and then I realized I was wearing the Ducks socks from the Rinks in Anaheim where I played beer league. Turns out there was this guy in my group who is also a SoCal Native. Small world. Brett from Lakewood, who goes to school and plays hockey in Buffalo. We realize we played at the same rink, have mutual friends and he gives me a little encouragement as I get called up for my final run.

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At this point I’m just thinking, have fun, whatever happens happens. I skate up to the start mark. Behind me, a group of people who an hour ago were total strangers, all cheering me on. It was obvious I was out of place. Everyone knew that, but they also all could see I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it and finish. Camera guys, refs, athletes, and spectators all cheered me on as I started my run and looked like a disaster on skates, but I had a smile on my face the whole time. Cleared the first two hurdles then face planted and ran into the next one. Disqualified again.

I finished the run and got high fives from everyone waiting for me at the finish line. I didn’t qualify, but if I hadn’t clipped the hurdle on my first run, I would have and I was pretty damn proud of that. Not my comfort zone, hadn’t even laced up my skates in probably a year, falling all over the place... and I almost qualified. But beyond that, what really made this experience for me was the camaraderie.

This is what I love about sports. No matter who you are, where you come from, what you do, what you believe in – when you’re in a rink or a field or a park, you have a family. If even for only an hour or so, you’ve got a group of people cheering you on, hoping you succeed and picking you up when you fall.

So to my Crashed Ice people: thank you for such an amazing experience and good luck! I’ll be cheering you on as you race under the lights at Fenway in February.

For more information about the Red Bull Crashed Ice World Championship in Boston, visit Red Bull’s website here.

 
 
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Hannah Spraker is a Columnist and the Anaheim Correspondent for The Fourth Period.
Follow her on Twitter.

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