Maida Townsend began skating at age 50

Maida Townsend began skating at age 50. Today, at 75 years old, Townsend has won gold in an international skating competition. 

“Representing the United States of America, Maida Townsend.”

It was an introduction even Townsend – Chittenden District 7-4 State representative – wasn’t expecting to hear. But sure enough, it’s how she was presented to judges, the audience and her fellow competitors at the International Adult Figure Skating Competition in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Oct. 17.  

“I confess that it got my attention being introduced as representing the United States as opposed to representing my club, which is what I am used to hearing,” Townsend said. 

But represent the U.S. she did, as skaters from around the globe filled the Olympic-size rink. In her own category, Adult Ladies Bronze V division –V designating competitors born in 1951 or earlier– Townsend skated against three other Americans and a Canadian to earn the gold. 

As she took to the ice, she noted the judges’ position and prepared herself for the music to begin.

“Bumpin’ on Sunset,” a Jazz song by Wes Montgomery, filled the arena. It was a personal selection, as most of Townsend’s program music is. 

“There is the adage, let the music take you there,” she said. “It does; you have practiced so long, over and over again, this music is part of a person and the music just carried me.”

As she left the ice and awaited her score, Townsend felt great pride. She knew she had skated well and met her requirements.

“I’m my hardest critic,” she said, but added, “I knew when I came off the ice that I’d skated it really well.”

But getting to victory was no small feat. Townsend began preparing her program with her coach, Martha Harding, in early summer. The two worked an hour each day Tuesday-Thursdays, adding in Fridays the month before internationals.  

The program looked better each week, until just before internationals.

“For two solid weeks before this competition, nothing was working right, everything was falling apart,” Townsend said. “I was psyching myself out.”

But getting on the “storied rink” at Lake Placid – where countless “greats” like the Russian duo, the Protopopovs, Sonja Henie and Scott Hamilton have skated – made the rough practices disappear. 

“I got on the ice to do the program and it was like those two awful weeks never happened,” Townsend said. “I was in the zone and it just felt so good.”

What’s noteworthy about Townsend’s skating is that it only began 25 years ago, when she was 50 years old. 

Townsend was an avid fan of watching the elite figure skaters on television.

“I’d find myself just so drawn to it, and oftentimes I’d find it so beautiful I was there crying watching the performances,” she said.

When an ad for group skating lessons stared up at her from the pages of a newspaper, Townsend knew the message was meant for her. 

Townsend wasn’t fearful about safety when she hit the ice for the first time. Rather, she said she was concerned about being the “tallest skater.” Figure skating is a sport that typically attracts a less aged crowd, but Townsend discovered age is but a number. She practiced the basics in group lessons, then found a coach to study under.

With Coach Julie MacDonald’s help, Townsend honed her skills and grew tremendously.  Though Townsend was content to continue lessons with MacDonald, her coach saw a greater future for her. 

“At a given point in time, Julie [MacDonald] informed me that she needed to kick me out of the nest,” Townsend said. “I was very comfortable with Julie and she sensed I was too comfortable.”

That’s when Townsend paired with Harding. 

“Martha [Harding] was this really big deal coach,” Townsend recalls. “I was really scared, I remember saying to Julia, ‘What if she rejects me?’”

But Townsend met all of Harding’s requirements and the duo has worked well together ever since.

“Julie knew what she was doing when she kicked me out of the nest,” Townsend said. “Martha worked with me, understanding as an older skater my goals are very different from a kids’.”

Harding and Townsend spend much of their time working on “quality skating.” For Townsend, that means dedicating effort to flow, posture and working the edges of her blades. 

“To me, skating is when your foot is on the ice, as opposed to jump, jump, jump, jump,” she said. “There’s the whole business of interpreting the music ... if all you’re doing is going back and forth jump, back and forth jump, it’s not being one with the music.”

Don’t let that fool you, Townsend still gets some air. In her early years with Harding, she did all the single jumps – save for the Axel. Today she does what jumps and spins her body permits.

And one of her big requirements is looking confident and competent on the ice. It’s not uncommon for people who start skating in their adulthood to be more cautious than their youthful counterparts, according to Townsend. 

“Adults are more cautious in skating, I think, than kids are,” she said. “Kids don’t have so far to fall, kids heal a lot faster than adults and kids don’t have to go to work the next day.”

But Townsend challenges that. In fact, she’s had judges assume she’s skated for most of her life.

And though Townsend is the first to say she’s learned a great deal from Harding, Harding says the feeling is mutual.

“I’ve learned a lot from [Townsend] as far as being disciplined,” Harding said. 

Townsend’s disciplined nature keeps her skating even when the legislature is in session. During the session, she’s up at 3:15 a.m. to walk her dog and prepare for the day, then she’s on the ice at 5:45 a.m. and en route to the Capitol by 6:35 a.m.  But skating is good for both mind and body, Townsend said. During the session it’s a joyful event that can be “cleansing.”

“If I didn’t skate I think I’d be a much older 75 than I am,” Townsend said.

That’s why Townsend would recommend the sport to anyone who’s interested but perhaps trepidatious to skate. 

“You’re not too old to do it. There’s no reason to be defined by a number,” she said. “I really believe that. I intend to keep skating ‘til my body tells me, ‘Stop.’  So far my body’s nowhere near telling me to stop.”

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