I am a roller-blader. I inline skate.
I proclaim that as though I should be leaning against a wall, looking somewhat mysterious, not looking directly at anyone, nodding as though I’m acutely aware of my athletic prowess.
I may as well declare I am a nuclear physicist because I do the two tasks with equal skill, which isn’t much in case I’m not making myself clear.
I joined a group in London called “The Huff-n-Puffers”—athletes over the age of 55. I am one of the youngest, a fact that elevates my opinion of my skill, or lack thereof, at roller-blading.
We meet indoors at The Optimist Club. I haven’t tackled the outdoor asphalt yet, the downhill and uphill grades, stones, debris, obstacles, people, dogs, strollers, obstacles, bicycles, bumps, cracks, obstacles.
That will come later, once spring has arrived for certain. I think.
As soon as I get my skates on, my shins begin to ache immediately, as though tightening up the laces and Velcro and other apparatus is a signal to my shins to begin complaining. It is as though my shins are shrieking at the top of their lungs (if they had lungs, of course).
Then my instep stings where my blister has torn.
It is all a bit alarming, but once things quiet down, I feel rather exhilarated as I skate in rhythm to the music blasting out the sound system of the gymnasium; music that originally was recorded about the same time the phonograph hit the market or the wheel, I’m not sure which.
Did that sound judgmental? My apologies.
I can glide now. Push, glide, push, glide. My own ineptness isn’t so obvious in those moments of gliding. I feel almost graceful, except when the wall comes alarmingly close before I cross my feet over and turn just in the nick of time.
I feel almost powerful. Almost.
There is one older man that I love to watch. He walks stiffly into the gymnasium and struggles into his skates. They are old roller-skates, but they look as though they fit him like a well-worn pair of jeans (you know the kind).
He stands and straightens his back and winces slightly as he pushes toward the floor. And then he is transformed into a young man as he glides and weaves and moves in perfect time to the music.
His eyes are slightly closed, and his head tilts off to the side and slightly downward. His knees seem made of durable rubber that moves fluidly without buckling or jabbing.
He turns effortlessly and skates in reverse, his arms held up slightly as though he is tucking a pretty girl into his arms—the pretty girl now gone from his life I fear.
The rhythm of his skating, and the story that his body tells, is like a testimony to having been young. It causes me to lose sight of what I am doing, to forget my awkwardness and just watch him remembering.
I don’t want to interrupt this scene—this little moment of history that goes un-noticed by most; un-noticed because the other skaters are in their own memory, when roller-skates were the order of the day and meeting at the rink to skate round and round with your pals and best girl and favourite guy was the order of the day.
But there is something different about this gentleman; something that captures my attention every time I encounter him.
I skate close to him but keep a respectful distance, mostly because I fear I might crash into him and break something; of his, not mine. I also fear spoiling the moment.
He skates for a half-hour or so and doesn’t talk to anyone, doesn’t look up while he is on the floor. But once he takes his skates off and begins to head for the exit, he catches my eye, knows that I have been watching, and doesn’t find it intrusive.
He smiles and nods slightly and then goes home, happier I think than before he came—his skates having worked their magic.
I am a roller-blader. I inline skate.