Friday, October 05, 2007

Robert Unger Eulogy

Robert Unger, one of my former (and likely favorite) skating instructors died last Sunday, Sept. 30. He had been ill for some time, and it has been a couple of years, at least, since I've seen him. He always remembered me which was nice. I wonder if it made him feel old to see people like me who he had known since their childhoods. He never seemed old to me.

Sometimes it was hard to tell if he was angry because of his heavy German accent. It wasn't hard to understand his words, but the intonation always sounded a little upset. Well, I think he enjoyed that all of us little girls were intimidated by his speech because I would often "catch him" turn and laugh when everyone else was too afraid to look at him. But his true annoyance would become more apparent in how red his face became. Sometimes it was as red as a beet. Those were the times I was sorry that I looked. ;-)

Mr. Unger was so smart, and that is why he was my favorite skating teacher. He was the one who taught me about the "physics" of skating, the how and why it works better to do it 'this way' instead of the wrong way. Somehow knowing that made it easier for my body to cooperate with my mind. Other kids, though, didn't care about that stuff. They just wanted to know how to do the tricks. They didn't usually care about how to do them right or better, as long as they could do them. They were often the better skaters though.

And Mr. Unger still encouraged us all regardless of how we learned. That is the heart of why he began the "recreational" skating competitions. He knew that many kids enjoyed skating so much although they might not be the most dedicated or talented ones around. He believed they should have the opportunity to celebrate their love of skating in friendly competitions. But believe me, even in "friendly and recreational" competitions it could still get pretty serious and nerve-racking.

I have many memories of Mr. Unger and my skating youth and later of my few years of adult skating and competing before becoming a mother. Not that mothers can't skate. I did the year after my first, and the Robert Unger School always had several adult students. But I was getting too old and too busy to be able to skate the way I wanted to skate. Sometimes we have to leave childhood things behind.

I hope that in his last thoughts Mr. Unger had the peace of knowing that he had helped improve the lives of so many through his teaching us discipline and achievement as well as the ability to move on the ice.

Oh, yeah, and I almost forgot about his hat. I must try to find a photo of him and that famous hat. He managed and owned the Ice Chalet in addition to being the head instructor of the skating school in his name.


Anonymous said...

Insomnia brought me to the computer at 3:30 a.m. Boredom led me to type the names of people I've known into google. Thus Robert Unger...he was my skating instructor as well in Huntsville, Alabama, and I used to go up to Knoxville for skating school very frequently. I was sad to hear of his passing, but enjoyed your eulogy of him. We share many of the same memories. Feel free to drop me a line.


Anonymous said...

I was also a pupil of Robert Unger's in Huntsville and Knoxville before joining Holiday on Ice ( a brief stint...had to have major spinal surgery) in 1970. He was the greatest coach with the most enthusiasm for his students of anyone I have ever known. I will never forget his positive and enthusiastic teaching and the way he pushed me forward when I thought I just couldn't do anymore. I would be so exhausted after hours a day on the rink and he just made me keep going. But he always knew when enough was enough and would lock my skates in his office and then ban me from the rink for a couple of days to rest. And he was always right about that...I would have spent 12 hours a day 7 days a week with my skates on if he had let me! I never knew one student who didn't find him a positive and joyful teacher and friend and I do hope he knew just how much love he generated in all his students. He was the best and there will never be another like him. All of us who skated with him were very, very fortunate to have known this gracious and extraordinary man.

Ellen Mc.