Finally, after two weeks of ice packs, support bandages, ibuprofen gel and a footstool with a cushion on it, my leg is on the mend. I can put more weight on it, need to limp less, I'm walking almost normally now so... time to get my rollerblades out of the cupboard under the stairs!
If I can walk with a slight limp and only inflict moderate pain by inadvertently putting too much weight on the wrong muscle, skating should be a similar experience shouldn't it?
My first real skate was on Saturday, two weeks and a day after I tore my left calf muscle playing barefoot 5-a-side football at the Embassy's Family Fun Day. I - perhaps foolishly - choose a time when I'm alone at home; who am I going to call if my leg drops off or something and I'm lying in a heap in the middle of the road, under the 45 degree Sun and with mad arab drivers swerving to try and clip me round the ear with their wing mirrors? But I'm getting carried away... nothing like that's going to happen is it? Although no expert I'm a pretty fair skater now, having graduated from the "Windmill of Death" home correspondence course in proper rollerblading technique, AKA the internet. Yes, I know what I'm doing. I'll take it easy the first time out, paying careful attention to any unusual signals my bruised and overworked nerve endings may care to send brainward. I'll stick to the quiet back roads and stay close to the house so that I can bail out if it starts to hurt.
All of this goes through my mind as I'm strapping on my skates, knee and elbow pads and helmet. I lift myself up to standing position (in the lounge), and bob up and down a bit, testing how it feels to put a little weight on my leg in the usual knees-bent skating stance. I haven't used the muscles in this way for a while and not at all since the injury, so it does feel a little weird but not really painful, so I taxi out of the lounge, turn right into the hall and step out into the courtyard. Leaving the air-conditioned house in Riyadh is a little like entering a sauna. When you open the door a wave of heat hits you in the face, it's intensity taking you by surprise. I also sometimes get that when I open the oven door to check on the roast potatoes, which I don't get very often because I don't cook much, and then usually I don't use the oven, but I digress...
The first challenge - getting to, opening, going out of and finally closing the front gate - goes fairly smoothly, although I did stand up too straight as I approached the gate and my right skate wheels slipped out in front of me, resulting in my giving the gate an underserved good swift kick. Now finally out on my own personal 2.5km-long network of skating track, which the locals have nicknamed, "The Diplomatic Quarter", it's time to put my recuperating left leg - and my memory of how to skate for that matter - to the test.
I start off slowly, gingerly, and there's a little pain in certain positions but it's no worse than when I'm walking. I skate up the hill to the top of our road, then stop to listen to my leg complaining, but it's keeping quiet for now, so we carry on. Like a rower with only one good oar or a supermarket trolley with a dodgy wheel, I'm finding it hard to go in a straight line. I guess my left calf muscles are a little atrophied because I'm pushing equally hard with both feet but skating round corners. This trip may be even shorter than planned if all I can do is skate a big circle.
I'm only going to do about 15 minutes today - half my usual workout. I try some parallel turns, crossovers, and stopping with the heel brake. It's clear that my new-found skating brilliance hasn't deserted me after it's forced fortnight off, but it's also clear that my leg's starting to ache now so I slowly limp-skate back home, my right leg deciding all by itself to give that damn front gate another good kick on the way in, just for good measure.