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An unusual gift for Christmas — outdoor skating in Tampa


He wore an olive green fleece jacket. She wore a festive red sweater. Off the ice, Jim and Susan Sampson were just another middle-aged couple from Temple Terrace.

On the ice they glided like slow-motion figure skaters, his arm firmly around her waist, feet crisscrossing in unison.

It was a sight rarely seen on Christmas Day in Tampa — outdoor ice skating, courtesy of the city and the Tampa Bay Lightning, who set up the rink.

And yet the Sampsons made it look perfectly natural. "I'm not a skater," Susan said earlier, predicting her husband, a skilled hockey player, would hold her up.

He was just that good.

• • •

The rink at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, open to the public since November, drew a typical crowd on Christmas: children and grandparents, natives and tourists, novices and obvious athletes.

Dressed in every possible fashion, from khaki shorts to glittery designer sweaters and scarves, they paid $10, including skate rental, to try something new or, in many cases, remember what life was like before they came to Florida.

Ron Callahan and his wife, Maureen, used to skate together in Chicago. Now living in Riverview, they wondered how their three teenage daughters would take to it.

"We have all this extra time off, and we're always looking for things to do," Ron Callahan said.

Kaylyn, the oldest and most athletic of the children, moved easily and gracefully. Sisters Karissa and Katie spent a good bit of time hugging the walls.

Callahan stood back and shot video. "I'm too afraid of injury," he said.

He watched as his second-oldest daughter joined Kaylyn in the center of the ring. Katie, 15, continued to hug the wall.

"She's always been a little more fearful," he said.

• • •

Jim Sampson can tell skating stories all day long.

He remembers, as a child in Kalamazoo, Mich., shoveling snow off the lake. He remembers flooding a rink with his dad.

When he started playing organized hockey, his coach could hardly believe how long he could play without a break.

Gazing Saturday across the Hillsborough River at the University of Tampa minarets, he said, "If you passed wrong, the puck would go from here all the way to there, that's how smooth the ice was."

He remembers how his parents would skate together. "They would just flow," he said. "My mother could skate backwards."

His wife left the rink on Saturday with a New Year's resolution of sorts: "I probably should skate more often."

On the other side of the rink, Callahan continued to work his videocamera. He noticed that two of his daughters were skating easily in the center. And that one of them was Katie, the youngest.

He smiled. "Now, that's progress."

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 624-2739 or

An unusual gift for Christmas — outdoor skating in Tampa 12/25/10 [Last modified: Saturday, December 25, 2010 8:48pm]
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