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06/07/2019

Stoke the Fire

Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend Tracy White’s 7th annual Forest City Blade Fest in Rockford Illinois.

I have been hearing about this skatepark competition the last few summers and was really interested in checking it out.  A contest for all ages and levels of skill.
Super Grom -  9 & under, Stud - boys and girls intermediate, Kingpin/old man - over 30, and Freakshow Elite.
Not to mention a friendly game of roller hockey, a cones race, and a #rollerblade10k the next day.  I took my proximity of living in Chicago as my first real chance to make it out to this radical weekend event.

So with my freshly tuned up New Jack Pro’s and a longing to spend some of my energy off the trail and in the skatepark I departed with Bambi to make the two hour drive out to Rockford Illinois.  We pulled up to the skatepark to the sight of not only dozens of skaters from Illinois and neighboring states but also dozens of little kids flying in every which way around the skatepark.

It’s not often you go to a skatepark and see young kids in-line skating anymore. The generational gap sometimes worries me for the future of the aggressive side of our industry. None the less I was so thrilled to see all the kids with Rollerblade skates and helmets (some of them a little too big for their heads) rolling up and down the various obstacles with smiles beaming across their faces.

Some skaters find kids to be a nuisance at the skatepark, after all it is technically a training ground for this extreme sport we do.
Yet as the day unfolded I watched my fellow skaters as they did amazing high flying stunts, masterfully avoiding the kids at the bottom of every ramp and around every blind corner. Nobody really seemed to mind sharing the course. I think we were just happy to be skating, not to mention the rainy forecast had somehow transformed into a beautiful summer day.

Photo by: Heather White

I knew I would be participating in the competition so I spent my time searching the park for my flow, for the obstacles I wanted to skate and the maneuvers I wanted to attempt.
I couldn’t seem to find any inspiration though.
There were so many amazing skaters, each suited with their own skills and styles.
I watched what everybody else skated… maybe I’ll go for that… nope, I wiped out…
maybe I’ll try and grind this thing… nope, not for me…
I was feeling like maybe today just wasn’t my day, maybe I would just sit it out..

The time came for the event to officially kick off.
Tracy announced that the kids sprint race around the park was about to happen.
He called my name over the loud speakers, along with my fellow skaters Scotty B & the legendary Tall Tone.
He asked Scotty and Tone to stand in the center of the park as an acting finish line.
Then he asked me to accompany him twice around the park outlining the course of the race.
After that I took my place in the corner of the park to act as a marker and help the kids remember which direction to go in their mad scramble to skate to the finish line.

Photo by: Heather White

After both the kids and adult races ended we had a little more time to free skate the park.
I still couldn’t get into my zone…

So now came time for the kids competition.
I really appreciated this part.
It put on display something I think a lot of us forget about, or push to the back of our minds.
Each kid, boy & girl took their runs with the entire park to themselves for 2 minutes each..
Each one the same, they skated around the park looking straight ahead, not considering what anyone else was doing, not overwhelmed with what tricks they should try, not caring about anything except skating and the obvious fire that it ignited within them.

Watching as each one attempted to make it up and down the obstacles with fierce looks of determination, and glowing smiles when they landed. I began to recall this fire that had started in me so long ago.

Most of the kids chose this one particular ramp on the far end of the course to continuously fly off.
I thought it was interesting because none of us older skaters had looked at this ramp as an obstacle to skate, other than getting up to the hangout deck.

I watched these kids air of that ramp over and over, until finally 6 year old skater Raef Gilber struck a cord of inspiration in me. He has been inline skating for only a year and playing hockey for 3 and you could tell right away he had a passion for it.
He made his rounds about the park speeding towards the corner ramp with so much determination. After a few small attempts everybody watched as he gave his final go with so much fire. Skating full speed as the crowd cheered for him. He started to roll up the ramp and into the air, high, higher, all the way up, until his feet went out in front of him, he seemed almost suspended in the air before he came crashing down to the earth with a solid thud. But the roar of everyone cheering helped Raef jump right to his feet.
This was a powerful message.

After the kids comp ended it was time for the “old man comp” (age 30+).
Per usual everybody shredded despite their “old man” status, with Tall Tone taking his third consecutive victory.

Older skaters are a testament to the mantra - A body in motion stays in motion!
It’s never too late to start skating, getting older should be even more of a reason to find a fun & healthy form of exercise like skating..

Finally it came time for the freakshow division..
There were 15 of us competing in this division, divided into three 5 minute heats with the top 5 skaters moving on to the final heat.

Luckily I was in the third heat..
So I waited and watched my homies (including my IOWAT and White Rabbit brothers) shred the park to pieces. Skater after skater dropping sick moves and lines. It came time for my heat so I climbed back up to the top of the tallest ramp and took one more scan of the park.
Tracey called my name signaling my turn to take my initial drop in.
I fell immediately.
Bummer.
I didn’t let that defeat me though.
I climbed back up the ramp, took some deep breaths and meditated on how I was about to spend my energy for the next few minutes.
I thought about Raef and the mad attempt he took to fly, and Suddenly I knew what I wanted to do.
From the ramp Raef had aired off there was a gap to the top of the tallest ramp in the park.
I rolled to the edge of the ramp and eyed the distance from where I was to the ramp below..
I took a scary leap and somehow made it in one piece. My thought then was that if I can make it down this gap I could surely make it back up.

I made my way to the far end of the course to the same place all the kids had started from.
I started to hype myself up. My Iowa friends and fellow skaters knew this was the tell tale sign that I was about to attempt something gnarly.
I took a few deep breathes and started to skate as fast as I could back in the direction of the gap.
I tried to embody the same fiery energy as the kids had earlier in the day.
I smiled, and pushed harder, suddenly I was rolling up the ramp, leaving the ramp, and flying through the air at my target. I wanted to grind the tall ramp.
I missed… yet luck carried me safely back down to earth with minimal damage. My next two attempts only felt further from my goal.

With only a few moments left in the heat I knew I had to do this. I could feel the fire consuming me. I started to rocket down and across the park. This was it I told myself, you can do this.
I launched off the ramp, soared through the air feeling completely weightless. Suddenly my skates locked onto the grind and I knew I was there. I slide across the coping and gracefully dropped back down to earth. My heart racing and emotions charged I threw my fist up into the air as I felt the sense of victory wash over me.
The fire that can be lost and sometimes diminish had once again been reignited. I had conquered my self.

 

Footage by: Aaron Shultz

I took of my skates and helmet and thanked my friends for hyping me up.
Then had the enjoyment of watching them skate in the final heat while I chilled on the sidelines knowing I had accomplished what I wanted.

As soon as the day had begun it was ending.
Tracey climbed to the top of the makeshift pyramid podium and started to announce the winners.
I was happy to see so many Iowa skaters up there. I know I mention Iowa a lot but it’s my home. Iowa and the skaters from there molded me into the skater and man that I am. So it’s always a pleasure to be able to chant IOWAT and celebrate in our victories.


Photo by: Bambi

I was zoned out talking with Bambi, reliving the skating moments we had all just witnessed when suddenly Tracy started to mention the winner for best trick…
Mentioning the trick was done on an obstacle nobody had ever done before..
My friends started to chant my name in unison which was by far the coolest part of the entire day.
It means so much to me to have the respect of all these talented skaters. I made my way up to the podium and couldn’t help but cheese out the biggest smile in the world. Tracy handed me my prize package that included a 1994 asa shirt, a brand new Rollerblade tool (of which I immediately gave to my friend Coltan for his sick best trick “450 back unity”) and the prize I really wanted.. Two bottles of hot sauce.
I can’t think of anything I’d rather have after skating then hot sauce to douse my victory dinner with.


Photo by:  Heather White

All in all the 7th annual Forest City Blade fest was a blast. Tracy and his volunteers ran the event to perfection. Everybody had their moments to shine and express the passion and talents for this sport we all love so much. I can say that this will be an event I attend again. I appreciate Tracy and Rollerblade for helping to make this event happen, and for their support and genuine interest in continuing the growth of our community.

Special shout of to Aaron Schultz (@groundzer0.000) for his dedication to capturing our tricks and telling our story.
And to (Insert Tracy whites wife name) for the amazing photos she captured.


Photo by: Bambi

If there is one thing that I really took away from this day it’s that no matter your skill level, age, discipline, what tricks you do, or how fast you skate, the most important thing is that you stoke that fire inside and remember why it is you fell in love with skating.

Peace, love, & good vibes

-    Kaleboston

 

 

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