The blades of Randy Rice's skates cut soundlessly into the ice at the Treadwell Arena. He weaves gracefully through the whirl of skaters, gliding on one skate, then the other, now forward, now backward. He does a small hop and lands on his right foot, going into a tight spin for a few revolutions before he trips slightly and stops.
"Old knees," he said with a grin.
Rice, 52, began figure skating while he was in college. Now he is back on the ice after a nearly 15-year break necessitated by the lack of an indoor rink in Juneau until last month. Natural ice isn't good for figure skating, he said. It's too rough and inconsistent.
That's why Rice got involved with the Juneau-Douglas Ice Association even before there was a rink, when organized ice skating here was limited to hockey.
"I hooked up with them fairly early on. I tried to advocate for making sure there was a place for figure skaters," he said.
Now there is, and Rice coordinates the skating lesson program. He is one of about a dozen instructors who teach Learn to Skate classes and beginning figure skating to about 160 people every week at the Treadwell Arena. Group lessons began early last month, and on Tuesday Rice and other teachers were evaluating their first crop of students.
"We really don't have people up very high on the skill level yet, but we wanted to make sure that there's a place in that arena for figure skating and some time allocated for it," he said. "We know we have skaters that are going in that direction."
Skaters can take group lessons at the arena on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Instructors also have a few students who take private lessons.
Rice, originally from Marshall, Mo., began skating when he was a boy, but didn't start figure skating until college. He studied biology at the University of Missouri, California State University and the University of California-Santa Cruz.
Rice doesn't credit any particular thing with getting him into the sport.
"I just got around a rink and started," he said.
Once he began, it was difficult to stop. Rice calls figure skating "addictive."
"As you gain command of skating skills, it's a kind of freedom-inspiring sport," he said.
He attained some proficiency in the sport, getting up to the "silver" skill level in ice dancing, and through the third testing level of eight figure skating levels. Skaters must trace a particular figure on the ice to pass each level, with each level requiring a more intricate figure, Rice said. Hence the term "figure skating."
His hobby took off in his college days, and years later, he was teaching skating and judging figure skating competitions while living in Fairbanks. After getting a master's degree in oceanography at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, he worked there as a biologist for the Department of Fish and Game and ran a skate shop on the side.
Rice moved to Juneau 15 years ago to work for the Department of Environmental Conservation, and now heads up the Seafood Technical Program at the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.
Since the arena opened, a lot of his free time has been spent dusting off his old moves and learning which ones age has erased from his repertoire.
"I don't do much jumping anymore," he said.
Rice spends up to 10 hours a week on the ice, mostly with students such as 14-year-old Stephanie Joyce. Joyce figure skated about a year in upstate New York before her family moved to Juneau in 2000. She said Rice's love of figure skating is obvious.
"The first time I met him, it was at an open skate. He was just skating around helping people, and that was really cool, because a lot of people wouldn't give up their free time to do it. It was easy to see it was a passion of his," Joyce said.
Rice watched attentively on Wednesday evening as Joyce practiced some of her moves in the middle of the rink as dozens of skaters, young and old, skilled and struggling, circled around them.
"When students get proper instruction, they progress very fast. You see them really light up and take off and feel so positive about their progress," Rice said. "You know you're getting them started on something that's really rewarding and maybe an avocation or a love."
Masha Herbst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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