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The joy and journey of learning to roller skate as an adult

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Here at NPR, we are leaning into the joy where we can with a series called I'm Really Into. Well, today, Invisibilia co-host Kia Miakka Natisse brings us her story of picking up a new hobby during the pandemic - roller skating.

KIA MIAKKA NATISSE, BYLINE: I started skating with a really humble goal - try not to look so scared. I know that might sound easy, but it took me a while. At first, being on wheels made me look like I'd stuck my finger in an electrical socket - just a wide open mouth terror. But not looking scared was something I knew I could do. And having small goals helped me stick with the painfully embarrassing, humbling and thrilling process of trying to learn to roller skate. The pandemic brought back roller skating in a major way. At one point, there was a worldwide shortage of skates. And as it turns out, there's a lot of people like me - 35-plus trying to figure out if they can learn something new.

GRETCHEN QUINN: It's no different to me than, like, yoga, but people respond to it in such a strange way.

NATISSE: Gretchen Quinn (ph) is one of those skaters. When the pandemic hit, she fell in love with online videos of roller skaters just vibing out to music. So for her 40th birthday, she bought herself her first pair of roller skates. Most nights after dinner, her five kids and husband would give her space to push away the furniture and roll around on their hardwood floors. But once she left the house, the reactions she got from others weren't quite as understanding.

QUINN: I have my roller skates on my shoulder, and a neighbor would be like, where are you headed? I'm like, I'm going roller skating. And so they, like, laughed. They're like, oh, really? I bought my kid roller skates for Christmas. Would you want to roller skate with them? No, I don't (laughter).

NATISSE: No shade to the kids, of course, but I get it. Most people associate roller skating with kids' birthday parties. But skating as a grown-up with grown-up knees, it is a different adventure.

KRISELA BRISCOE: You know, I'm 43 and like, I don't - you know, I want to keep my knees, you know? So I was concerned with that.

NATISSE: When Krisela Briscoe (ph) began skating the concrete floors of her garage, she was worried. She'd already had two knee surgeries. But practicing skating quickly became worth the risk, a peaceful respite after stressful workdays. Still, even with the best knees, falling down is a major part of learning to skate.

BRISCOE: I won't get better if I don't fall, you know? Well, for me, I just have to get myself back up and quickly because, you know, if you stay down too long, you know, it's like, oh, Lord. You know, the fear sets in.

NATISSE: I, too, got real familiar with picking myself up off the floor, though my granny heckled me a little bit - (imitating grandmother) classes? We would just watch and then practice in the corner - I figured some form of roller skating instruction could do me good.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

NATISSE: As I began to learn, I could jam out alone at home, but the rink was so intimidating. My knees would lock, and I was keenly aware of how different things felt on wheels. Everyone seemed to move so fast, spinning in unpredictable paces and directions. It can be overwhelming. Luckily, there are plenty of skaters there to help you orient yourself. I remember one time a man, who looked a lot like my granddad with his nickname D.W. etched into his skates, taught me to turn corners by lifting one of my legs. Like a rudder, he yelled at me over the blaring music, you could always use it. He held my hand as we skated around the rink a few times, my face stuck in an open-mouth grin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

NATISSE: When I'm in the zone at the rink, I'm skating the wind. My only thoughts are listening to the music and letting it move through me as I navigate the oval lanes of the skate floor.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

NATISSE: On a really good night, when the floors feel as smooth as glass and the music grooves just right, it's like we're all floating, skating to the same song but in our own unique ways. There's an invisible web of sound and breeze carrying the song. To swim amongst it, expressing my own skate self, is extremely freeing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BRISCOE: The rewards are so much greater, especially as an older person.

NATISSE: Krisela Briscoe knows the vibe.

BRISCOE: The children when they're skating, granted, they have fun; adults that skate, it brings so much peace because you get to experience childlike joy, you know?

NATISSE: What started out as a quest to have something to do in the pandemic has turned into something more meaningful for both of us.

BRISCOE: I didn't expect the happiness that I receive from skating because I really just wanted to learn how to skate backwards. And the peace that I have when I'm skating is something that I want to take and have forever.

NATISSE: The other day, I joyfully skated past an older woman on the rink. She was slowly shuffling in her kneepads and wrist guards. My goal is to skate like you, she said, almost under her breath. I tried to contain my pride. Keep at it, I yelled over my shoulder. A few minutes later, I tripped, fell and then quickly picked myself up and kept at it.

KELLY: That is Kia Miakka Natisse, co-host of NPR's Invisibilia podcast. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kia Miakka Natisse
Kia Miakka Natisse is the co-host of NPR's Invisibilia. A trained journalist turned artist, her love for storytelling is a driving creative force that's led her to many unexpected places. She's worked on a number of just-okay reality shows; wrote hot takes on pop culture, jokes for teens, and comics for moms; substitute taught kindergarten and did a bunch of artist residencies, most namely the Third Coast Radio Residency, which unarguably changed her life.