"...Being on the student end of things as a skater has made me even more aware of how important it is for me to also be encouraging and supportive as a teacher." óProf. Patrick Byrne (Philosophy) (Photo by Kris Brewer)
A Scholar - and a Skater
Philosophy's Patrick Byrne enjoys both Lonergan and lutz
By Stephen Gawlik
For years, the answer to a Boston College sports trivia question has remained a secret within the Philosophy Department.
The question is this: Who was the last person to skate in the old McHugh Forum before it was demolished in 1986?
If you guessed that it was a BC hockey player or coach taking a final lap around the hallowed rink, you'd be wrong.
"I was the very last one off the ice before the crews came in to tear down that rink," admits Prof. Patrick Byrne (Philosophy). "They were tearing the seats out while I was skating."
A scholar of the likes of Aristotle and Lonergan, Byrne took up skating 23 years ago to as a means of getting more exercise. Circumstances, a little encouragement, and a dose of courage led Byrne to learn the elements of figure skating. Along the way it has taught him a thing or two about his role as a teacher and student.
"Advancing in skating comes through attention to small things - slight differences in posture make big differences in skating," said Byrne. "Being a scholar is like that also. Careful attention to one or two words can make a big difference in correctly understanding what a philosopher really means."
This month is a great time to be a figure skating aficionado like Byrne, who is avidly following the Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, and looks forward to finding inspiration in the stories of those who compete at the highest level.
"Oh, I will definitely be watching," said Byrne in a recent interview at Conte Forum, where the author of Analysis and Science in Aristotle donned a sweat suit and a pair of skates for his weekly workout on the ice. "Among the current group of American men, I like Matthew Savoie best. He is the most artistic skater, he has great interpretation of his music."
Byrne's unplanned start in figure skating came at a used skate store many years ago when he could not find the hockey skates he wanted, and had to settle for figure skates instead.
"All they had in my size were men's figure skates," recalls Byrne, whose skating experience up to that point were the rough-and-tumble hockey games he played as a youngster on the pond near his home in Jamesville, NY.
"When I was kid I never would have thought about doing this. I thought this was effeminate."
Reason prevailed, however, and Byrne bought the figure skates and headed off to the rink. Some time later a former coach witnessed his skating prowess and encouraged him to consider figure skating. Nearly a quarter century later, Byrne is still at it.
As a student on the ice, Byrne says he has learned something of his own role as teacher in the classroom.
"When you make a mistake skating and fall, you look pretty foolish. I need encouragement to get up and try again," said Byrne. "I try to do that when I teach philosophy as well, but being on the student end of things as a skater has made me even more aware of how important it is for me to also be encouraging and supportive as a teacher."
Byrne enjoys skating to the Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody" or Eva Cassidy's "Take Me to the River" and has developed his own artistry on the ice, including some difficult jumps and spins.
"Learning to jump was one of the hardest parts," said Byrne, who is coached by Mary Jean Kelly of the Chestnut Hill Skating School.
"When she first told me she wanted me to do a jump, I said, 'There's no way these skates are leaving the ice,'" he said.
Eventually, Byrne mustered up the courage and now makes jumps a part of his regular routine.
Under the tutelage of Kelly, Byrne has developed into what she calls a "skating machine" to the point where he is attempting difficult moves such as the lutz and the axel.
"Unlike other jumps, in a lutz you have to rotate in the opposite direction to the curve you have been skating along," said Byrne, who adds that the axel requires a 540-degree turn.
The skills haven't come easy, however. A nasty fall once caused him to black out, and other spills have required stitches and physical therapy.
Among the rewards for Byrne is the admiration of his coach and fellow skaters.
"He's wonderful to work with," said Kelly, who has coached Byrne since 1988. "He is a fantastic skater."
"Spinning makes me dizzy and jumping scares me, so I'm quite impressed that he can do both," said Assoc. Prof. Catherine Schneider (Economics), recruited by Byrne to try skating. "He just goes out and tries things, and if he falls, well, that's part of skating."
Does Byrne ever think about trying for a spot in the Winter Olympics? No thanks, he says - for him, skating is just pure enjoyment, whether to watch or to do himself.
"It's an escape. You feel like you're flying out there," he says.