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Arts and Enrichment

Fun on Wheels (and Blades)

Skating Sports Equal Unique Fun and Fitness for All Ages

December 01, 2010
The enjoyment of skating is often associated with one-time events like the Olympics, birthday parties or scenes from romantic movies. However, for thousands of Hoosiers skating is a way of life. With dozens of ice and roller rinks in Greater Indianapolis, the sport of skating (or anything on blades and wheels) is evolving to accommodate those who aspire to display beauty and grace on the ice, as well as those who are aggressively pursuing to score points.

Ice Sports

According to Sue Wehrli-McLaughlin with the U.S. Figure Skating Association, skating is a great form of low-impact exercise that improves cardiovascular Health, endurance, muscle tone, balance, agility and flexibility. Skating is also a great teacher of many important life lessons, such as building self-confidence, goal setting, hard work and determination.

"Many people are turning to skating as a healthy activity for overall fitness and it is an activity that can be enjoyed by the whole family," Wehrli-McLaughlin said. "There are many activities that compliment skating – those with a mixture of balance, coordination, agility and endurance like gymnastics, dance, diving, cross-country running, soccer and oddly enough equestrian."

Olympic sports, including speed skating and curling, have become available at the Indiana World Skating Academy, which makes it home at the Pan American Plaza downtown.

We offer all of the Olympic winter ice sports under one roof," said Pam Robinson, executive director at the Indiana World Skating Academy, "We have learn to skate programs year-round. A family of four can skate for two hours for $25. That's two hours of exercise and interaction; much better than going to the movies and plopping on the seats and not talking. We have people in their seventies who are active in their sport and it's something anyone can do throughout life."

Youth hockey has experienced growth in the last decade. Teams are being formed that include players as young as four. Schools have started club sports to support students interested in playing ice hockey, as well.

At the Carmel Ice Skadium, Arctic Zone in Westfield and Elite Skating, stick and puck practice time is offered, as well as public skating.

"The in-house Indianapolis Youth Hockey Association plays here [Carmel Ice Skadium] as well as the Racers travel teams. On either of these teams there are various ages and skill levels that play together. Brebeuf and Carmel play here. For ice hockey fans, there's always something to watch," said Floyd Johnson, manager Zotec Partners Carmel Ice Skadium and Arctic Zone in Westfield. "For figure skaters, we have group lessons and figure skaters practice here who are from the Ice Skating Club of Indianapolis. We have held figure skating competitions here and some of our students performed very well in last year's competition."

The Ice Skadium and Arctic Zone have adult hockey leagues plus hockey and figure skating camps. They also offer learn to skate classes for those six years and older.

"We enjoy working with the general public and exposing them to figure skating and hockey then we direct them to the team or coach for the sport they are interested," Johnson said.

Can anyone pick up this hobby? "In my opinion, skating is not as challenging as many perceive," said Devan Heiber, owner and head coach of Elite Skating. "Coming into the sport with the awareness that it's different and that falling is a likelihood, it often provides for a more successful and fun experience."

Roller Derby—it's the real deal

The introduction of in-line skating in the 1990's rejuvenated the skating sport. Sports like roller derby, broomball and in-line street hockey got people back on wheels.

Roller Derby is a sport made mostly of female athletes, does not include a ball of any kind and includes more teamwork and determination than one might assume.

Troy Twibell, president of the Junior Roller Derby Association in Austin, Texas, said the resurrection of Roller Derby took place just a few years ago. "Four years ago we had 20 leagues, now we have 100 leagues globally. It's growing incredibly fast and our organization works to keep up with home-grown teams and leagues all over the world," he said.

A Roller Derby game is composed of two teams with up to 15 skaters on a team. The games are called a bout with two-minute jams; five skaters from each team are on the floor. From each team there are four blockers together forming a pack, eight girls in all. There are two jammers from each team. The jammer scores the points but use their blockers to get through the pack. All players are in full pads, mouth guards, wrist guards. The defending blockers are trying to knock the jammer out of the 12-foot wide oval. Once she makes it through the pack, she has to skate around and catch up to go a second time through. Only then, does she get a point.

"Chicago Riots, Toronto and Cincinnati have leagues started by kids and managed kids. There are a few boys' leagues out there, but they are far behind the girls. Now, since it's such a new thing, some boys are mixed in, but as boys and girls are well-matched at early ages it's a fair game. It's all very exciting to see these girls empowered playing a safe sport. We actually teach them how to fall and that's reduces quite a bit of injury, just in case there are some mothers out there wondering," Twibell said.

In Indianapolis, the Naptown Roller Girls, which started in 2006, has Melissa Brooks (Mizz Understood), president/director of training, working hard to keep the sport relevant and for some, believable.

"Junior Roller Derby is a sport that is important for young girls who have never had the opportunity to play a contact sport. Junior Derby is the first of its kind to offer this aggressive game to young girls. I have seen, over the years, that this physicality not only gives them confidence, but gives them self-awareness and the knowledge that they can defend themselves and have the right to say no and mean it."

As a former Naptown Roller girl, Brooks and two other former NRG skaters started the Junior League so they could pass along their passion for the sport to their children.

"We are a bonified roller derby family. I view each of my skaters just like my child. I am interested in their school work and peer pressure," Brooks said.

Just for fun

Wheels of Wonder rink on the Southside of Indianapolis offers recreational quad skating (four-wheels), as well as birthday parties and club sports.

"We have an artistic skate club that competes nationally at meets across the country. Our coach is a national champion," said Wendy Shawhan, co-owner with her husband Terry. "The coach is still in this even though he's in his eighties. They do on roller skates what Olympic skaters do on ice, including singles and doubles competitions."

Wheels of Wonder is home to a speed skating club, which is similar to Olympic ice speed skaters who also compete nationally.

Wheels of Wonder rink packs the house during late night skates that go until 3 a.m. "We do a lot of private birthday parties and Christmas parties. We always have a New Year's Eve skate. It's a huge bash with games, dancing and giveaways. We have a lot on New Year's Eve because it's a safe place to bring the kids," said Shawhan.

For ice skaters looking for a similar taste of fun, Ice Skadium and Arctic Ice host weekly cosmic skate on Friday and Saturday. "We turn down the lights and have a laser light on the surface of the ice, with a disco ball and music playing. It's taking something associated with bowling transferred onto the ice," said Johnson.

Nikki Keever is a freelance writer living in Noblesville, Indiana with her husband and three children.

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Tags: Enrichment, Health

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