Youth In-Line

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I’m in a state of rollerblade nostalgia.

If my birthday had landed in the late summer, autumn or spring, my childhood might’ve taken a decidedly different route. If you were a young boy born in the Minneapolis area in the mid-'80s, and your birthday fell between September and February, the gift of ice skates was a given. In November, the ponds began to freeze and the local parks would convert their fields of dead grass into hockey-rinks as Christmas came. You’d become one with the seasonal rhythm of Minnesota: first the skates, then the snow, then the ice, then pee-wee hockey, hot chocolate, hot-dish and ice-fishing.

After the long freeze, the melt finally happened. And it was some time after this melt that my birthday came, with late spring and all of summer still ahead. It seemed a cruel trick to receive ice skates as a present, so I got their ultra-hip, neon green, no-ice-required brother instead.

Rollerblade, the company, began in Minneapolis, and the mid-to-late-'80s was a booming time for their product. It was the beginning of an American rollerblading explosion and I was smack dab in the middle of it. But it wasn’t until my family and I moved to Colorado Springs that my passion for bladin’ took on a new form.

All of the usual clichés came to life after our cross-country move; I had trouble adjusting, making friends and fitting in at school — it took a couple of years before I even began running around with the kids from the neighborhood. It was being invited to play street hockey up the block that finally broke the ice.

Several of the kids were wearing rollerblades and I thought, after a long, difficult period, that I had discovered some sort of heaven. There was no better feeling than strapping on skates in early summer mornings and then peeling them off my swollen ankles at dusk. Our Moms would deliver snacks and we’d call time-out to take off to urinate in the bushes if natured called — it was a glorious time.

And, once they found out I could hack it at hockey, the neighborhood boys invited me to join a league with them down at the local Skate City. I played several seasons and created some of my fondest memories in those skating rinks. The mixed aromas of bubble-gum, fog machines and nacho cheese still excite the competitive spirit within me.

Throughout my youth hockey years I discovered that the Springs really was a Mecca and a trendsetter in the world of roller-hockey. In 2002, Nexed Inline Sports Arena (now called the Xfinity Roller Sports Arena) opened for business, essentially a dramatic expansion of the Skate City operations. When I walked in to the arena to interview for what would become my first summer job, I was blown away by the facility. Seeing the dressing rooms, bleachers, pro-shop and massive scoreboard, it was the first time I recognized roller hockey as a real sport that adults played at a professional capacity.

I don’t know if it was the enormous amount of hot-dogs I served or all of the locker rooms I wiped down, maybe it was that, as I went into my junior year of high school, I developed new interests worth exploring that were away from the rinks and arenas, but for some reason that summer spelled the end of my love-affair with roller hockey and I never looked back.

That is until recently when, while flipping through channels, I came across a live roller-hockey game being broadcast over the air. I was dripping with nostalgia and gripped by excitement as I realized the game was being played on the same surface I used to sweep and filmed in the same building where I worked.

For three periods I was a kid again.

Nic R. Krause was born a cranky, curmudgeon of a child in a Minnesota suburb. He was plucked from the muggy tundra and relocated to Colorado Springs 22 years ago. From intramural jai-alai, to his complicated relationship with the Minnesota Vikings, Nic, plainly stated, is bonkers for sports. Follow him on Twitter @NicRKrause.                 

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