The first teacher has a lasting effort, Tomoko knows. She recalls her daughter's first ice skating teacher, and the lifelong impact he has made in Beata's life.
When daughter Beata was three, Tomoko took her to the local ice skating rink, thinking that it would be a good activity for her little one. Tomoko took Beata’s hand, and asked at the service desk, “Do you have teachers and skates?”
“Of course,” answered the young clerk. Then he motioned over a friendly looking gentleman in his forties wearing a big black overcoat and Russian style hat, learning on a guard rail.
“How do you do? My name is Tony Howard.” He took Tomoko’s hand warmly, as she greeted him. Tomoko recognized a British accent in his voice. He had immigrated from London to San Francisco in 1955, and made his living teaching skating at the Bay area skating rink.
Tony bent his knees to greet Beata. “And what is your name? Would you like to skate?” Beata nodded solemnly.Tony held Beata’s hands, “Now try to stand. I’m right here so you can lean on me if you need to.” Beata wrinkled her noise, teetering a moment on the skates. “Now I want you to take big steps. Pretend you are marching. Walk towards me.” Tony bent over as he gently held her hands and gradually let go. Beata broke out into a grin as she realized that she was walking by herself. “Good girl!” Tony beamed. “Ready to try the ice?” This time Beata nodded vigorously.
With that, Tony walked her onto the ice. Tomoko watched as Tony guided Beata to the middle, away from the other skaters, and then showed her how to balance and walk on the ice. He got her to swivel a bit, had her try jumping, and made her practice how to bend and fall – and get back up again without hurting herself. Then Tony swooped Beata up in his arms and glided once around the rink, letting Beata feel the wind in her face. “Whee!” she cried.
Tony Howard started with her then, with occasional lessons during the public skating time. Tomoko realized that the first teacher was the most important one. She was impressed with Tony’s teaching style; he was very patient and showed more personality in his communication than other skating coaches.
By the time Beata was six, Tony began coaching her seriously. He started a skating book for her in which he jotted down detailed instructions, drawing the figures and illustrating them with stick persons. Sometimes he would draw Disney-like characters to show specific movements. He had an appreciation for different kinds of music – jazz, ballet, even Yo Yo Ma, which he leveraged to showcase Beata’s natural dancing abilities. Their partnership clicked. Beata has made ice skating her life's vocation -- along with her skating husband. Even now Beata keeps in touch with Tony, who at age 84 continues to skate and teach at the Oakland skating rink.