Monday, February 25, 2013

Roller skating still rocks

As a kid growing up in the seventies, if I wasn’t in school, I was outside. I lived in a neighborhood where you could always find other kids who were up for a game of tag, kickball, dodge ball, baseball or football. And, on the rare occasion when a group couldn’t be amassed, there was always bike riding, jump rope, hopscotch, tree climbing and roller skating. 

I loved to roller skate. My first pair of skates had metal wheels. I’d lace them up and glide up and down my street for hours. One of my earliest memories is of challenging a boy on a Big Wheel to race and I was winning; that is, until I tripped on a rock and skidded down the road on my face, a stunt that would have me starting first grade with a scab running from my temple to my upper lip. But even that didn’t diminish my affinity for roller skating.

By the time I was eleven, I had a new pair of skates with red wheels and big pom-poms with bells that I would proudly don every weekend at the local roller skating rink, which was ten minutes from my house. My parents would drop me off for the three hour matinee session and pick me up afterward—a common occurrence in the seventies, but something I find hard to imagine doing with my own young daughters today. I even had a birthday party at the roller skating rink.

But, as high school approached, my friends and I had moved on to ice skating and, before long, both pairs of skates were collecting dust in my closet.

Roller skating, which is both a form of recreation and a sport, as well as a mode of transportation, has been around for nearly 200 years, but was most popular in America in the 1970s and the 1990s. It’s resurgence in the nineties is credited to the introduction of inline skates, which became known as “roller blading,” and I was just one of many college students who zipped around campus on a pair of Rollerblades.

By the time my children were born, skating had again become a distant memory. Until, one day, on our way to Pennsylvania, we drove by the Sportsman’s Hall Roller Skating Rink in Upperco, Md.—the very place where my parents had met more than forty-five years ago, and where my own children would soon learn to skate and have their own birthday parties.

Recognized by the President's Council on Physical Fitness and recommended by the American Heart Association as an aerobic fitness sport, roller skating, which is relatively safe and easy to learn, develops motor skills and uses all the body’s muscles, and, surprisingly, burns as many calories as running, is one of the best fitness activities for children.

So, instead of sitting on the couch, watching television and playing video games during the cold and blustery days of winter, roll on over to Sportsman’s Hall where the whole family is guaranteed to have hours of fun while getting fit. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Everyone has to start somewhere

I was asked the following question by a reader of one of my newspaper columns: 

Q: “How did you get into triathlons? Were you and your husband both into triathlons when you met?”  

A: My husband, a competitive swimmer since high school, and I met in college, about five years before we did our first triathlon.  

4.4-mile Great Chesapeake Bay Swim

A year after we were married, my husband joined a masters swim team and trained for the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim, finishing second on his first attempt. So, when he decided to swim the bay again the following year I figured I’d give it a try too. The sum total of my swimming experience to that point, however, included basic lessons when I was five-year-old, during which I managed to keep the top of my head dry the entire time, and a little freestyle and sidestroke as required to pass a lifeguard training course. But I managed to make it across the bay and my husband won that year, so it was an awesome day for both of us!

Dewey Beach played host to my first-ever triatlon,
which has indeed become a way of life!

Ultimately, it was our involvement with the masters swim team that led us to the sport of triathlon.
Some of our friends on the masters team were headed to Delaware to participate in the Dewey Beach Sprint Triathlon and they invited us to join them. Thinking it would be a fun weekend at the beach, we agreed to go. Little did I know how much the experience I gained training for the bay swim would pay off as I battled the rolling surf and the ebb and flow of the tide during the half-mile open water swim in the ocean.  After the swim, it was on to fifteen miles of windswept coastal roads, which we tackled on our mountain bikes, followed by a 5K run. I wouldn’t say we were hooked, but it was so much fun we made the trek back to Dewey two more times after that.

My first of three daughters.
A whole new kind of triathlon was about to begin!

And then our first daughter was born. Within four years we had three children under the age of five and every day was a triathlon. The revolving door of eat, sleep, wake, and bottles, bibs, diapers, left no room for swim, bike, run.

One of my favorite & most-valued baby necessities

By the time the youngest turned two I was running again, my daughter and her jogging stroller my constant companions. We hired a babysitter once a week so we could ride our bikes and, on weekends, took turns swimming laps at the community pool. That was six years ago and we’ve been competing in triathlons ever since. 

At the Hagerstown Youth Triathlon

What started out nearly fifteen years ago as a fun weekend at the beach has become a passion that the whole family enjoys as all three of our daughters now regularly participate in youth triathlons. My husband and I continue to challenge ourselves and explore our limits within the sport, always striving to see how fast and how far we can go, our races ranging from local sprint-distance events to Ironman triathlons in far-flung locations. 

For anyone looking to get into multi-sport, a duathlon or sprint-distance triathlon, particularly one with a pool swim, is the best way to start. But, be warned, it's addictive! 

The feeling is addictive! 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The price we pay to play

A few months ago I sat in front of my computer, poised to register for my second Ironman triathlon, my cursor hovering over the “Register Now” button. I was just one click away from paying a sizeable chunk of change for the privilege of sweating and suffering alongside two thousand fellow triathletes over the course of 140.6 miles.   

This is insane, I thought. Why am I doing this? There is plenty of fodder on the internet poking fun at those of us who pay to do this crazy thing called Ironman. But the reasons I do it are many and varied—for the thrill and adventure; for the challenge and sense of accomplishment; to see how far I can push myself; and, simply, to pursue my passion. And, no matter what your hobby or passion is—be it motocross, scrapbooking, boating or snow skiing—you are sure to feel it in your pocketbook. So I swallowed my guilt, clicked register, and forked over the money.

Fast forward to January and a man who has won tickets to see the Ravens play San Francisco in the Superbowl is front-page news. Upon reading further, I learned that the man had not won the tickets but, rather, won a lottery for the opportunity to purchase tickets—for the astronomical price of $850 each! A single ticket to spectate at the Superbowl is nearly $200 more than the cost to participate in an Ironman, an event that can last up to seventeen hours as opposed to a three-hour football game. People interviewed on television by a local news reporter joked that if it came down to paying the mortgage or going to the Superbowl they’d go to the Superbowl—a sentiment I couldn’t quite relate to, though I suddenly felt far less guilt over the money I’d plunked down for the Ironman.

Although I realize the Superbowl is the crown jewel of the season and that the ritual tailgating and the halftime show are part of the experience, I can’t fathom paying that much to see a game, despite being practically raised on the sport. My dad coached, my brother played and I, possessing a pretty decent spiral, wanted to play too, though, lacking girls’ teams at the time, I was relegated to the sidelines. Nonetheless, Sunday football was a cornerstone of my childhood, with my entire extended family, hailing from Anne Arundel County and the DC suburbs, convening every weekend to watch the Redskins.  

But somewhere along the way I became disenchanted with fandom. I enjoyed watching my fellow high school and college classmates play the game, but felt indifferent toward the strangers on television earning big paychecks. And I no longer wanted to stand on the sidelines; I wanted to be in on the action, with blood, sweat and tears to call my own. 

But no matter what path you travel to pursue your passions, be it training for an Ironman or traveling to New Orleans to be part of the roaring crowd at the Superdome, there is a price to pay to play. The important part is to make sure that, whatever the cost, it is worth every penny.