I remember as clearly as if it were yesterday, the first time I put on ice skates. It was at a church party at Vivian Park in Provo Canyon, and I was at that tender age when you want to be accepted by any girl your age who will look your way - about 13.

It was beautiful that night, with a full moon hanging over the edge of the pines above the cliffs that hemmed in one side of the ice pond. Moonlight reflected from the snow. A warm fire crackled on the edge of the ice, and there was hot chocolate.The skates I had were hand-me-downs, black with thick black laces. My feet filled them like a dozen oranges fill a 50-gallon barrel. They must have been hockey skates, because the curve of the blades had none of the form that would give me the graceful loops and swirls that I thought came naturally with skating.

But I was optimistic. I wrapped the long laces 20 times around my ankles to take up the slack and stepped onto the ice.

Briefly put, that evening was one of the most disastrous ones I remember as a teenager. That's why I remember it.

I had no idea my feet would wobble like wheat in a wind storm when I tried to stand up on skates. It was as if my ankles were on hinges that bent sideways - rusty hinges meant to bend in opposite directions from the way they were bending. Within five feet I was down. Within five minutes I was down and out.

But I kept on trying. By the time the evening was over, my feet felt like they had been through a mine field. My ankles were swollen for days afterward.

I skated a couple of other times in the next few years but never made it through the weak-ankle phase.

I was more a roller-skate man. At least on roller skates you can get up a little speed before losing total control. And there are walls to stop you if you get out of hand.

Even at the roller-skating rink, though, I envied the guys in the flashy silk shirts with long sleeves that waved in the breeze. They would weave in and out between the girls like a butterfly flits from flower to flower. Their whirling moves were both amazing and disgusting, and as much as I tried, I could never get the hang of how to stop really quick the way they did, using those little rubber bumpers on the toes.

Like millions of others, I have watched the Olympics the past two weeks, and, like many, am particularly taken by the skaters. It doesn't surprise me that they are the most popular item on the menu. Especially the pairs.

Their moves seem unbelievable at times. I watch them circle the ice to the flow of the music, their arms interlaced, their feet moving together in a miracle of precision that carries them as if in a dream.

We marvel at the balance, the grace, the weight of their bodies shifting and throwing them forward in a headlong flow of form that seems so easy and free. He hurls her into the air, and she spins in a triple axle twice her height, landing backward on one skate, and swish, her arms outstretched, she curls; the skate blade catches and carries her gracefully around.

No wonder we watch them with such awe. When we watch closely, we are not only watching them, but they become us. In our minds we enter their bodies and their balance; we feel the ice with them. We are transported, transposed - transformed.

I used to feel bad because I couldn't write like Robert Frost. Then one day I thought, why envy him every time I read one of his wonderful dances with words. It is enough to enter the dance of sound and space he is sharing. To envy is to miss the dance itself.

And so it is with skating - and all of the other Olympic treats we have savored over the past two weeks. Through these dedicated athletes, we have felt a sense of what most of us never did or ever will do on the ice rink or the ski slopes.

They give us a gift, wrapped in a package with strong ankles, that we could never give ourselves but which we can feel with them through the power of television and the wonder of their passion.