On Neville Island, ice skating coaches forget it's hot outside

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When clothing stores switch over from selling winter gear to summer wear, Beth Sutton isn't ogling the shorts.

"I'm like, 'Ooo, gloves are on sale,' " she said.

On Tuesday, when the thermometer outside of Paradise Island Bowl and Beach on Grand Avenue in Neville Island registered 92 degrees, Ms. Sutton, 42, of Squirrel Hill was dressed in a workout shirt, a fleece sweatshirt and a parka to coach young figure skaters at the Robert Morris University Island Sports Center.

Her student was practicing a flying camel as Ms. Sutton stood along the boards of the ice rink, comfortable in her many layers, because, as she said, it's all about the layers. When she starts skating, the parka comes off first, then the sweatshirt.

"When you're out there moving around," she said, gesturing to a couple skaters who were wearing gloves but no sleeves, "you actually strip down to your exercise pants and a tank top."

Of course, after spending the last 33 years either learning to skate, practicing skating, performing for the Ice Capades and then coaching skating, Ms. Sutton, the director of figure skating, is used to spending her summers on ice.

"Until I had kids and started going to the pool, I never had a suntan," she said. "While everyone is in the sun, I'm in here coaching, getting the fluorescent tan."

On a hot day, the first reaction to walking into the Island Sports Center is one of relief.

"It's a nice job to have in the summer," said Mary Jane Ryan, 65, of Beaver Falls. Ms. Ryan coordinates the skaters and the coaches, making sure they get on the ice in time for their sessions and just about everything else. She gets to work at 6 a.m. and is comfortable until about 7:30 a.m., when the cold starts to get to her. That is when she puts on her fleece jacket.

The air temperature in the rinks, one for figure skating and the other for hockey, runs about 55 to 60 degrees. Dave Hanson, the executive director of Island Sports Center, said the cost of keeping the ice cold on the hottest of summer days is lumped into the cost of keeping the complex comfortable through air conditioning on one great, big electric bill.

Ms. Sutton said there are days when the maintenance staff might be fiddling with the systems and the rink gets colder than usual. When she calls to complain, she usually gets the response: "You know you work in an ice rink, don't you?"

It's hard to feel badly for the coaches and staff who work at the Island Sports Center, at least until they walk outside.

"Every day I go through this melting process in the car," said Rachel Lane-McCarthy, 38, of Upper St. Clair, a skating coach.

It's common for the coaches and staff to walk out at the end of the day, still wearing fleece jackets only to be greeted by searing heat and humidity. Ms. Ryan said by the time she is done with her workday, she forgets about the heat wave and then is hit with a blast at the door.

Like the others, Ms. Lane-McCarthy said she appreciates working on the ice the most during her weekends off -- when she is reminded of how hot the rest of the region has it.


Ann Belser: abelser@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1699. First Published July 15, 2012 4:00 AM


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