It was the early 2010s in the small Walker County neighborhood of Timberwilde, a couple miles on the outskirts of Huntsville, Texas. Each day I sat in my room waiting for the day to end. Each day I waited for something to begin with no idea as to what that something was, but praying it would take me far away. I wanted something that came naturally, the way sports seemed to come to everyone but me. Not something that came easily or without practice, but something that would make time slow down. In the moment of intensity I would find clarity and a feeling of purpose.
I wanted to get of the house and escape my shouting siblings. I wanted to be alone with my ideas. I wanted to be tired enough to sleep at night. So I skated. I learned to skate as early as age 6 before I even knew how to read and would skate on the sidewalks around the soccer complex while my sister had practice. I had stopped skating after tearing my hamstring in fourth grade, but in seventh or eighth grade, I started again this time going in tiny circles around our driveway. One day, when I was too lazy to blow off the pine needles, I started skating on the bumpy, pothole filled road and I never looked back.
It was there, flying down hills with pine trees on either side, I found adventure and freedom far from the doldrums of my provincial life. I skated that same 2.5 mile backwoods loop a million times, and as I traveled my determination carried me first one mile, then eventually 26.2, the distance of a marathon. Skating may be a sport, but my skating was not and is not a sport. The only commitment is to myself and the only competition is against myself. I was free from the criticism and comparison I then associated with sport. The feeling of purpose and perseverance was greater than the feeling of the vibrations transferred from the county road through my cheap purple skates into every nerve of my feet. (That, along with running track at a trackless school, gave me permanent rice krispie ankles “” they snap, crackle and pop.)
I would pass a few cute old couples going for their evening walk. A few trucks would pass me and some would wave. I almost hit a doe once or twice. Every loop included skating by a lazy old longhorn surrounded by his harem of heifers and later down the road almost getting chased off the road by the Morgan’s pitbull.
A lot has changed since I first started street skating. I played sports, but none of them gave me the sense of purpose skating does. (Which makes sense. I was really bad, like swinging-the-bat-three-seconds-after-the-catcher-caught-the-ball bad.) I had a come to Jesus moment, literally with the literal Jesus, which gave me a greater sense of purpose than skating ever could. I discovered some of my greatest talents and began to understand myself and all the things I had experienced. And then I moved to the city. (Go Spurs Go.)
When I came to Trinity I began skating, as I always had, near where I lived, but this time, I was living in a place that is densely populated with my peers. My private escape was reinvented as my public identity. My skating became known and I became known for skating. I went from being viewed as physically inept and wholistically unathletic to someone who is seen as having mastery over a very physical demanding skill, whether or not I actually do.
I shout compliments at the people I skate by. I tell them how slow they are at walking when I lap them. I watch Stephanie Crumrine completely eat it on my skates and then photoshop her skating with Usain Bolt. The startled Pacific Lutheran football team parts before me like the red sea as I calmly ask, “What up, Lutes?” I watch as the feet of tennis players sync up to the beat of my skating playlist of show tunes. I almost get hit by Colorado College’s charter bus. I find silent encouragement from the presence of the constantly practicing baseball team, while simultaneously managing to not run over any of Tim Scannell’s precious little pitchers. (At least not yet “” Andrew Hoffman, watch yourself.) Side note: I have a dream of catching a fly ball in my bare hands while skating. (Side side note: It’s not going to happen.)
What is the secret to skating twenty miles straight? You just keep skating. (Also it’s all in the hips, y’all.) In times when you feel as if you have no control, the one thing you can do is keep going. Keep going until your toes ache. Work yourself numb until you can feel only the empowerment of fearlessness, knowing your mind and the impending sunset are all that can stop you. Keep going until you have given all you have within you or until you get really hungry and Mabee is about to close. When you cannot stop the wheels on your feet and in your head from turning, find your balance and control what you can control. When you feel like you are going to spin out of control, remain focused and fearless. Fear has no place in your determined mind. Stay focused on your purpose. When you are where you be there.
So you skate. You wipe out and wipe the blood on your shirt. You tighten your laces. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. You know your purpose. You know your power. You know your strength. You know what you have survived. You know that you can do it. Ask yourself will you? You keep going. You are flying down this hill no matter what, so you might as well enjoy the ride.