Born again blader

I was the fastest girl in my sixth-grade class. And by that I mean as in running, so get your mind out of the gutter.

The purpose of this is not to be boastful (OK, maybe just a little), but it is mostly to poke incredible fun at the cruel irony that we call life. See, not long after that triumphant victory in the 50-yard dash, I discovered black eyeliner, punk rock and Burger King drive-thrus, and well, we probably don’t need to go down the rest of that rocky road. Then, a few years later, there was the torn ACL followed by several near death experiences.

Eventually, I emerged into adulthood – older, wiser and quite a bit slower. See, despite my promising beginnings, I developed a healthy dislike for speed or anything that could potentially result in that sickening “pop” of ligaments stretched in ways nature hadn’t intended. Basically, this has rendered me an extreme ninny in any sport, with the possible exceptions of mini golf and shuffle board.

But recently, something snapped – mentally, that is. I believe that in certain clinical circles it is referred to as a midlife crisis, also known as pathetically trying to relive one’s youth. Whatever the diagnosis, the fact was, I could have used an intervention. But instead, I found myself at the friendly local sporting goods mecca standing in front of the wheeled personal recreational footwear. Yes, I mean roller blades. And yes, I know the proper name is “inline skates,” and that “roller blade” is just a trademarked name. But for me, an aforementioned child of the greatest roller skating era the world has ever seen, they will forever be roller blades.

Anyway, there I was, ogling the inline skates, or roller blades, or whatever, when I was overcome with an uncontrollable urge. Next to all the plastic inline models was the predecessor of ’em all: a gleaming pair of white leather roller skates, just like the ones my mom would never let me have (thank god.) Back in the day, I was relegated to rental skates, you know, the ones that came in that grimy shade of beige with the rusty orange laces and stoppers. The ones that screamed out “My mom just dropped me off from the suburbs in the family station wagon!” On the other hand, the cool kids drove themselves, or at least had the sense to be dropped off a few blocks away. They all had the perfect feather and their own skates, complete with multi-colored pom poms and personal carrying case.

Now here I was, 25 years later, with the chance to be cool – all for the low, low price of $39.99. But before I could do anything rash, common sense prevailed, reminding me that if I really wanted to be cool, I should go for the blades. I mean, nothing says “has-been loser” louder than a front stopper. So, after careful consideration and numerous test runs through the sporting goods aisle, I ponied up to the cash register with my four-wheeled tickets to high-speed hipness.

I was so excited that it was all I could do to take them off and put them back in the box for the drive home. But once I got home, giddiness turned to buyer’s remorse. What had I done? Maybe it was the florescent lights, but what had seemed so harmless in the anonymity of corporate consumerism now seemed ridiculous, even dangerous. I may as well have bought a b-b gun while I was at it and shot my eye out. Even with all the prerequisite padding, there was still a lot of skin that would be exposed. And as well worn as it may have gotten over the years, I had become quite attached to it.

So, I did what any wishy-washy middle aged person in crisis would do. I stuck the box in the corner and tried my best to ignore it. Day in and day out, I would guiltily pass by the box, coming up with excuses not to go: too tired; looks like rain; not enough time; mattress needs turning. Then I made the fatal mistake of mentioning it to my friends and family, hoping that they would offer maybe an inkling of support. Au contraire. For the next few weeks, I was barraged with inquiries as to how the “fruit booting” was going, what color Spandex I wore and if I needed “a tow into town.” I mean, it’s not like I was going to uses poles or anything.

I soon became painfully aware that my pride was also in for a beating. Which, I sort of expected. It’s one thing to partake in a less-than-vogue sport, but do it well. There’s a certain respect in that. But, it’s completely different to do it and become the town jester in the process. I mean, no one laughed at John John when he bladed through Central Park, mostly because he was hot and he knew what he was doing. But there’s nothing hot about a knock-kneed mother of two, bundled head to toe in baggy sweats and barreling down the bike path, paralyzed with fear.

Then I remembered that looking cool was never really a priority for me. After all, my idea of shopping was rummaging through the thrift stores and I had been sporting the same hairstyle for 10 years.

So, with John John, the patron saint of roller blading watching over me, I booted up for my inaugural test run. Purely in the name of public safety, I was sure to go late on a Sunday evening, when the bike path was all but deserted and spectators were sparse. Somehow, I had coerced a friend, who happened to be an accomplished booter, to come along, just in case I fell into the river and was dragged under by my bulky footwear or knocked unconscious on the asphalt. Neither happened, I am happy to report. In fact, other than a few not-so-graceful recoveries, I remained upright. Even got a cat call – or maybe it was a heckle. But I’ll take what I can get.

Anyway, the next outing I decided to go it alone. I was vacationing in the Midwest, where pavement is plentiful, hills scarce and most importantly, no one knew me. I laced up and headed out, much to my husband’s deranged delight. “Wow, you look really comfortable on those things,” he called out as I wobbled into the street and toward the path. Truth be told, I forgot to pack my protective pads, so I was a little nervous. But once on the path, which I had scouted on foot the day before, I would be home free. However, the path that had seemed so flat and straight the day before, was as twisty and sketchy as a third world bus route. Before I could gain my composure, I found myself careening down the local equivalent of Dead Man’s Curve. A man walking a white shitzu dove out of the way as I bombed past like a run-away truck. As I reached top speeds, the dreaded wheel wobble set in. Braking would have been futile, sending me into an uncontrolled tailspin. With my creaky knees pushing maximum torque, I somehow managed to leverage them just enough to round the bend. As luck would have it, the coast was clear, and I cruised at maximum velocity. With the wind cooling my furrowed brow, I felt like that scrawny, carefree kid of yesteryear. And for that fleeting moment in time, I really was the fastest girl on two feet, or in this case, eight wheels.

Now, if only I had some pom poms.

– Missy Votel