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Mon, June 9, 2003

Blade runner
There's more to in-line skating than looking cool in the clothes

Summers lacked something for Jan Nekolny. An avid ice skater and skier, he found no warm-weather sport that gave him the same rush. While Vancouver summers were undeniably beautiful, he wanted something else besides jogging along Stanley Park's sea-wall trail. Then he discovered in-line skating.

With his body accustomed to the mechanics of skiing and skating, he found in-line skating "a natural fit" for his athletic lifestyle.

"It's fun ... there is such a sense of freedom," said Nekolny, who discovered in-line skating more than 10 years ago. "It's the next best thing to cruising the summer in a convertible car."

Not only is it a great way to take in the season's scenery, in-line skating can be a great cardio workout, while also exercising some of the largest muscles in the body: The gluteus and the quadriceps, otherwise known as the butt and thighs.

"In terms of heart fitness and protection against heart disease, (in-line skating) is a great workout," said Dr. Grant Lum, medical director at Athlete's Care for Sports and Recreational Injuries in Toronto.

The other thing Lum likes about this summertime sport is that the level of intensity can be varied. In-line skating (also known as rollerblading) can also strengthen the core -- the large muscle groups of the back, abdomen, hips and pelvis that keep us stabilized when we walk, run or jump.

"If you skate with good form and you have a good core in the first place, it will strengthen the core muscles," said Lum, cautioning that if the core muscles are already weak, skating can put stress on the system and cause back problems. People new to in-line skating should check with their doctor first.

Not only is Vancouver's Nekolny reaping the health benefits of in-line skating, he has turned his summertime passion into a part-time job. Lessons can be booked through his Web site, www.inline

Trying to find ways to put his youthful energy to use, Joe Baldocks took up in-line skating at 14. Ten years later, he and a bunch of his friends still hit the parking lots around Halifax to play ultimate Frisbee on in-line skates.

While some might find this mind-boggling, Baldocks -- now a 24-year-old kinesiologist at Maritime Physiotherapy in Halifax -- says newcomers to the sport can perform surprisingly well.

"A lot of beginners are so focused on how to stay on their feet, but if you give them something else to focus on it kind of makes their skating easier," said Baldocks.

"But trying it too soon could be dangerous."

Still, most rollerblade virgins may want to get some experience under their belt before any extreme in-line sports.

Both Baldocks and Nekolny advocate lessons -- though neither of them started out that way.

Baldocks plans on teaching in-line skating with two of his pals. He spent a weekend getting a teaching certificate at Problader, a Toronto-based company that provides professional in-line skating instruction.

With a decade of experience and certification under his belt, Baldocks plans to have his business, the Inline Edge, up and rolling soon.

Even more important than lessons, Nekolny, Baldocks and Lum all emphasize safety equipment.

Lum said the biggest risk is not a repetitive sports injury such as tendinitis but trauma resulting from falls, as many recreational in-line skaters wear little or no protective gear.

Spandex shorts or bikinis may make you look like a regular on Baywatch, but one fall and you'll look more like an extra on ER. A helmet, wrist guards, gloves, knee and elbow pads are the minimum, and long sleeves and pants are a good idea, too.

"Go take lessons before getting started and wear the appropriate gear," said Lum.


Along with the rising popularity of in-line skating, there has been an increase in the number of injuries related to the sport. Here are some tips from Health Canada on preventing accidents:

- USE full protective equipment. This includes a helmet, wrist guards, gloves, knee and elbow pads, long-sleeved shirt and long pants.

- TAKE lessons.

- SKATE in areas such as roller rinks, parks and playgrounds that are free of traffic, pedestrians, obstacles and surface irregularities (potholes, debris, cracks).

- SKATE on dry surfaces and under conditions of good visibility, and be wary of seasonal hazards such as wet leaves or ice.

- STAY away from traffic.

- DON'T skate in obstacle-filled confined areas such as your house or garage.

- BE careful near steps.

- USE caution on inclines, ramps and hills.

- DON'T skate while being towed by cars, bikes, dogs or people.

- VERY young children should wait until they have sufficient strength and coordination before skating.

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