At this time of year, I start to imagine myself flying down a ski hill, or cross-country skiing through the woods or skating gracefully around an ice rink.
I am always far more graceful and athletic in my imagination than in reality. But I’m working on the reality of those sports.
My daughter took ice skating lessons for the first time last winter, through the University of Illinois Campus Recreation Learn-to-Skate program. I signed up for the adult class at the same time as my daughter’s class. This fall, we returned to the rink for more lessons, and I’ve improved on the basics. 
I wish I’d learned more when I was younger.
Judith Hopping of Champaign grew up in Wisconsin, where she and the other kids she knew started ice skating at a very young age.
“We did pond skating. In winter, you just walked over to the park and rented your skates and went out onto pond,” Hopping said.
She was eager for her daughter Iona to learn to skate as well. Iona, now 9, began taking skating lessons at the beginning of 2011, at what her mother considers the advanced age of 7.
Iona has tried ballet and modern dance and gymnastics, but she likes ice skating best.
“I think she likes it because it’s dynamic. There’s more movement. She likes the speed,” Hopping said.
When Iona began taking lessons, “I thought, ‘Well, I’m not getting a lot of exercise. Since I’m here anyway and adult classes are going on, this would be perfect time to get some exercise,’” Hopping said.
She also wanted to fill what she called a “big hole in my skating education.
“I never learned to stop because, in Wisconsin, you stop by hitting a snowbank,” she said.
Hopping took lessons last spring and brushed up on her technique. She decided not to move on to the next level of classes.
“What I liked best was skating around and around in a circle. I like the free skating,” she said. “I don’t feel any great need to jump or spin. (I like) that little panache of crossover (turns) that separates us from the rest.
“When they started making us do tricks, I started to fall. I didn’t like that.”
That’s exactly how I feel.
Since most of us in my skating class this fall had skated before and could master the beginning skills quickly, our teacher moved on right away to the next level of skills. I’m thrilled to be able to execute a rudimentary — and not particularly graceful — crossover turn. 
The teacher also wanted us to have some fun, not just practice drills, so she began teaching us very basic spins; a spiral where you lean forward and lift your back leg up off the ice; a lunge where one knee is bent parallel to the ice and the other leg is straight behind you, with your boot on the ice; bunny hops; and even a tiny little axel jump.
After practicing the lunges at one class, my hamstrings were sore for a week.
And the jumps. I was pretty terrified to try them, and I’m not sure I ever actually left the ice, but I did manage to fall at my last class and leave with large bruises on both knees.
I hope to eventually skate gracefully around the rink, execute a pretty crossover turn, maybe even skate backward someday. But I don’t really want both feet to ever leave the ice at the same time.
While Hopping isn’t taking lessons alongside Iona right now, she skates with her family on weekends. She likes that it’s a sport the entire family can do together.
It’s a social, old-fashioned community kind of activity, she said.
She also particularly enjoys that form of exercise.
“It’s like flying a little bit, when it’s fast and you’re graceful,” Hopping said of skating, adding that — like Iona — she likes the speed.
“I like the grace of it,” she continued. “A lot of exercise makes me feel sweaty and ungraceful, sort of clunky. But there’s something about ice skating. You’re still getting a workout but you feel kind of graceful and lovely while you’re doing it.”
Photos: Top: Skaters are reflected in the plexiglass surrounding the ice rink during an open skate the University of Illinois Ice Arena. Photo by Robin Scholz. Bottom: Friends and families enjoy skating under the glow of holiday lights at the 2009 Festival on Ice at the University of Illinois Ice Arena. Photo by Heather Coit/The News-Gazette.