- The Washington Times - Friday, January 3, 2003

It is a soggy, foggy day; the Beltway is backed up, but the ice at Cabin John's indoor rink in Rockville is "delicious," says ice skating instructor Sheila Eckhart.
Thirty-eight years ago, the jolly coach emigrated from Scotland to escape the rainy weather. Now she spends her day hopping among Cabin John's three rinks with a different student every half-hour.
"It doesn't matter if you are a hockey, dance, figure skater or whatever," she says. "The basic elements are the same."
Inside the warming room, Mrs. Eckhart kneels down to lace 8-year-old Christopher Ordoobady's left skate. His mother, Lucy, laces the right one.
"Her secret is that she loves children, so they love her," Mrs. Ordoobady says. "And when you feel loved, it is very easy to do what she wants you to do." Mrs. Eckhart trains Christopher in endurance and motivation for his hockey games.
Christopher, who has bleached hair and hands like a German shepherd pup that hasn't grown into his paws, is eager to please his coach.
"Faster," Mrs. Eckhart says as he laps the Olympic-size rink. The noise of a crowded general session is no match for her booming voice. Christopher gives an extra effort before stopping 3 inches from Mrs. Eckhart's toes, spraying her with ice.
She assumes a slower pace at 2:30 p.m. while skating with Suzanne Duvall, 51. Mrs. Eckhart peers over her glasses while Mrs. Duvall works her way through a footwork sequence. Mrs. Duvall enjoys her 30 minutes a week on the ice, but she has a love affair with the wall.
"She is doing fine. She has overcome some fears, but we stay friendly with the wall," Mrs. Eckhart says.
Whether the students are age 4 or 80, the basics are exactly the same: pushing, gliding and having a good time.
She typically teaches 13 group lessons a week, and 36 of her students shell out $34 a week for a half-hour of her time.
"I teach skating; I hope I teach more," she says, adding there are many life lessons to learn from the sport, such as to love life, enjoy work and not take oneself too seriously. When her students become frustrated, she tells them, "Relax, it will come. Just enjoy it."
Mrs. Eckhart becomes puzzled when none of her 3- and 4-year-olds shows up for the 3 p.m. group lesson. The group apparently got stuck on the Beltway.
Mrs. Eckhart commutes from her new town house in Annapolis, but is undaunted by the 50-minute drive. However, she dislikes traveling for competitions on weekends. That was partly why she chose years ago to not teach competitive skaters.
"It is too much pressure," she says. "And I never wanted to compete. It was always teaching."
Mrs. Eckhart darts out of a penalty box to move an orange cone for the Zamboni, which has begun resurfacing the ice.
Children begin arriving for her 3:30 p.m. Tots II class. The tot classes are popular at Cabin John.
Mrs. Eckhart, 58, and her husband of 36 years do not have children of their own.
"My ice-rink kids are my kids," she says.
She first teaches her ice-rink children how to fall. These children have learned all about falling. Some prefer lying on the cold surface to skating. Mrs. Eckhart leans over 4-year-old Marley Clendenin to guide her feet.
"Open the front door; close the front door," she says. "Bend your knees."
This is the last class of a six-week session, and Mrs. Eckhart watches to determine which skaters are ready for the next level. All the tots in this class will advance.
The 4 p.m. Beta class is more difficult. Skaters often repeat the level. At $75 for a six-week session, some parents hesitate when their children are held back.
Six-year-old Amy Lin struggles through this lesson.
"I told her that if she does not pass, I am not going to register her for the next lesson," says her mother, Minghua Lin. "She was crying. I hope she passes."
Amy usually rents skate No. 178, but that pair is unavailable this time. The size 1 skates Amy wears are too big, and the leather chafes her ankle. Amy looks up for sympathy.
"It hurts," she says.
Mrs. Eckhart has seen the dilemma before. She knows Amy can do the moves at this level. It is just more difficult in bad skates. She hands Amy the evaluation slip. "Gamma." Amy passes.
"My feeling is, if you get the little, tiny ones, and make it a good experience for them, you've got them for life," Mrs. Eckhart says.
The experience is certainly good for 10-year-old figure skater Joanna Miller, whom Mrs. Eckhart trains during the 5:15 p.m. freestyle session.
"Joanna is a wild and crazy girl," she says. Joanna loves center stage. She lights up for any audience.
Mrs. Eckhart instructs Joanna through her program while another skater's rendition of "Carol of the Bells" plays over the loudspeakers. Joanna knows the rules: to get up and continue skating if she falls. She lands all her jumps and completes her spins even while dodging other skaters.
Still, Mrs. Eckhart knows she can do better.
"No snowplow-stopping before the hard stuff," she says.
She has no plans to slow down.
"I want to keep doing this until nobody wants me anymore; I love it," she says.
She considered retiring at one point, then quickly changed her mind.
"What on earth for?" she says. "I don't want to. This is a passion for me."

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