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How I became a roller girl

Like many kids who grew up in the '80s, I learned to roller skate around the age of 10. My first pair of skates were several sizes too big for me, purchased at a yard sale in Sedona, Arizona. They were stiff white leather like figure skates, with no stoppers, and hard wheels that made a sound like gravel being pulverized, but I loved them.

Back in the day, there weren't many paved roads in the neighborhood where we lived, but that didn't stop me from practicing up and down the driveway and every smooth patch of asphalt I could find. It's probably a good thing I could never find a long enough stretch of road to get going very fast, considering my lack of stoppers, padding or a helmet (don't judge, it was a very different time!).

A couple of years later we moved to Seattle and I had that quintessential Middle School experience of "skating days" at the local roller rink, complete with "slow jam" couples skate interludes, and all the excruciating social anxiety that entails. I seem to recall Madonna's Live to Tell featuring in the mix.

In the '90s when rollerblading became a thing, I tried it for a while but I never liked the way they fit. The thick, unyielding plastic was like trying to skate in ski boots, and I never got comfortable with one stopper in the back versus two in front like roller skates. I've been living in Canada since the mid-90s, but I didn't grow up here so, with the exception of Christmas visits to my Dad's side of the family in Ontario, I never got much practice ice skating, which probably would have helped my rollerblading technique immensely.

Rodger, my partner of 26 years is a former junior hockey player and never lost his love of the game, but he went through a decade or so when he didn't play, which coincided with my slide into the proverbial couch (although to be fair, I did master several video games during that time). Around 2016, he started playing hockey again and quickly became obsessed to the point of playing five days a week, often more than once a day.

Over the next couple of years, he also picked up tennis and squash and was going out every sunny day to do something outdoors while I went straight from my home office desk job to several hours of video game play, often at the very same desk, just switching my attention from work laptop to video game console.

I'll never forget the day in the spring of 2018 when he came home from a game of tennis and I suddenly noticed how fit and tan he looked. I jokingly called him "Fitness Boy" and he looked at me with what I can only describe as a combination of pity and concern, but also deep affection, and said to me in all seriousness, "Fitness is life." I scoffed defensively but he persisted. "Quite literally, fitness means vitality, health, survival... You should really think about getting outside and doing something active."

I had always been active as a little girl and well into adulthood, but a sedentary job and otherwise good health had allowed me to coast through my 30s without any alarm bells telling me I needed to get back in shape. I suddenly realized time was not on my side... it was only going to get harder the longer I put it off. I started wracking my brain... What could I do outside? I hated going to the gym. I've never been a competitive sports person, pretty much the exact opposite (if you want to see me get competitive, put me in a pub trivia game). Then I remembered how much I had loved roller skating as a kid, and a quick google search turned up, a local store catering exclusively to roller skaters, its iconic stucco facade painted Pepto-Bismol pink.

So we took a trip to the store together, and I told Rodger I only wanted to buy the cheapest pair they had. I didn't know if I was going to like it, and there was no sense wasting any more money than necessary. He pretended to agree but after I tried on the cheapest pair, which were about as comfortable as a pair of plastic rollerblades, he said, why don't you try on the pair you really want?

He'd seen me eyeing them when we walked in... the electric blue suede Moxies that cost three times as much as the cheapest pair. I tried them on and it was game over. They were soft and yielding with just enough ankle support, like sliding into the most comfortable pair of boots you've ever worn. I bought them on the spot, along with a set of pads and a helmet and then we set off to the parking garage to try them out.

The video from that day is horrifically embarrassing. I fell on my ass within the first few minutes, only the first of countless falls, scrapes and wipeouts in my journey to becoming a roller girl. My bruise from that day was the size of a cantaloupe, in a shocking range of colors from eggplant to pomegranate to grapefruit. As delicious as that sounds, it made sitting on the couch (my previous favorite pastime) a literal pain in the ass.

Lucky for me, Rodger had the patience of a saint and the skill of a hockey player, which is the exact combination it took to get me out practicing every day that summer, even when I was too slow to keep up with him, bruised, sore, tired, woefully out of shape, afraid I was never going to get better, and often whining about it as he rollerbladed far ahead, calling back at me to keep up...

I also found a group of girls that summer, the Rolla Skate Club (years later, they would reopen the long-shuttered Rollerland rink at the PNE). They became another lifeline, keeping me skating day after day, encouraging me and making sure I didn't get myself killed. It wasn't long before I was absolutely obsessed and could feel myself getting better, faster, stronger and more confident with each passing day. I took classes, I skated around the Seawall with the roller girls and sped around the city, up and down terrifyingly steep hills and carefully navigating downtown through traffic with Rodger, and eventually by myself. I skated every day I could until the the rain forced me indoors for the winter.

To stay in shape throughout the rainy season I started walking up the stairs in our building, 25 flights, at first just once, stopping every few flights to catch my breath, but eventually building up to several times a day. It's not nearly as fun as skating but it kept me from slouching back into my video gamer couch potato comfort zone and, most importantly, whipped me into shape. The endurance and strength I gained from doing the stairs all winter paid off enormously the following spring when I started skating again and found I could manage the steep hills and long distances without stopping to rest or stretch all the time like I had that first summer.

(If you live in a high-rise building, there is no better exercise than stairs. It's amazing for your legs, excellent cardio, and I eventually started carrying hand and wrist weights so I can work on my arms at the same time. I always listen to audiobooks or podcasts to take my mind off the endless repetition of grey concrete and orange railings. The rare times when I pass someone else in the stairwell they usually look startled, or impressed, or both. Sometimes they say encouraging things like, you go girl. During covid, when the gyms were closed, I even saw a few other tenants hiking up the stairs for exercise, but not lately.)

The photos below were taken the day I bought my skates in 2018, compared with one year later... It's kind of a "before and after," only there is no after, just a continuing journey.

That first sunny, dry day in January or February is usually enough to get me outside skating, even if I have to wear a down jacket and leather gloves. But it's much more fun the warmer it is. Now that it's been a few years, I look forward to every spring with the fervor of an addict. During covid, we started skating up to Prospect Point, which is an insanely steep, winding road up to a gorgeous, panoramic lookout point in Stanley Park. Drivers and bikers are often shocked to see someone rollerskating up it; and the downhill is one of the most exhilarating, joyous experiences an adrenaline junkie could ask for.

In recent years, roller skating has experienced a huge resurgence in popularity. The Rolla Skate Club girls reopened Rollerland to great success, and there's a thriving outdoor summer skate party called Sunset 54 that runs every other Thursday all summer at Sunset Beach. We've taken road trips to Washington state to skate the scenic Centennial Trail and explore the few remaining ultra-retro indoor rinks in places like Linden, Kirkland and Olympia.

Last summer, when my mother was briefly wheelchair-bound recovering from surgery, I accompanied her to Westerville, Ohio to help her navigate the campus of Otterbien University, where her PhD program was meeting for its introductory kickoff conference. There wasn't much to do all day while she was in lectures, so I brought my roller skates and managed to keep myself busy exploring the wide-ranging network of biking trails and racking up miles every day skating in the otherwise empty bike lanes throughout the suburban landscape, seemingly the only skater in town. I saw a handful of bikers, but mostly shared the road with air conditioned SUVs, maybe because it rarely dropped below 90 degrees that week (32 C).

The best thing that came out of my renewed love of skating, though, is the amazing friends I've made over the last few years. Roller skaters and bladers, roller derby and roller hockey players, skate dancers, speed demons and urban explorers... it's a great community. I'm a roller girl for life.

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Alison Price
Alison Price
May 26

Arwynne this is such an inspirational story! I love the idea of taking the stairs. Hats off to you. 💛


May 26

SO wanna go skating! Love you!

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