In-line skating camp teaches much-needed basics

Jerry Zgoda / Star Tribune

LANESBORO -- The last time Ardell Siegel went away to summer camp, she spent a week singing campfire songs and roasting marshmallows with other Girl Scouts at good, ol' Camp Arnold in Tennessee.

"That was about 40 gazillion years ago," she said.

It also was three decades or more before the roller skate was reinvented. So now, at age 52 and with all her three children moved out of the house, Siegel has returned to camp, this time to learn how to navigate slopes and slants on a pair of in-line skates.

"I want to be a cool, old lady," she said, "so I decided this is going to be my thing."

She traveled from her home near Houston, Tex., to join 17 other like-minded women in a five-day beginner's skate camp this week in Lanesboro. They came from the Bronx and Santa Fe, Miami Beach and Manhattan Beach, and ranged in age from 14 to 63. There was a judge, a telecommunications engineer, a third-grade schoolteacher, a freelance writer, a mother and a daughter, a grandmother and granddaughter.

They all came to browse the Amish shops in southeastern Minnesota, attend the local theater and ride inner tubes down the Root River. And they came to learn how to skate.

Or, rather, learn how to stop.

"That's the whole reason I came," said Karen Muelhaupt, an Iowa parole-board member from West Des Moines. "It'd be good to know how to stop, wouldn't it?"

There are men and women who have owned in-line skates for years and haven't learned the basics -- striding, turning, stopping -- that the 18 women paid $1,040 each for a week of vacation and instruction from Minneapolis-based Zephyr Inline Skate Tour company.

"When people buy a pair of skis, they take a lesson before they go down the mountain," said lead instructor Liz Miller, a former self-described skating "geek," technical writer and author who teaches classes near her northern California home. "So many people have been skating a long, long time and they don't know how to stop. You can't really do anything if you can't stop your speed buildup."

Some campers in-line skated occasionally in recent years -- "We call them 'the cheaters,'" Muelhaupt said -- and others, such as Peggy Rogillio, never placed a pair on her feet until she read about the camp in a Houston newspaper and immediately decided to take her 14-year-old granddaughter, Allison, here.

"The only skating I had ever done was roller skating when I was younger, but I was never very good at that," said Rogillio, 63, from Deer Park, Tex. "I always stayed close to the wall."

There was no wall on the parking lot where campers gathered every morning for the first of two daily sessions during which three instructors demonstrated "A-frame" turns, parallel turns, spin stops, grass stops and how to "swizzle," which teaches skaters to stride outward with their heels for forward power. On the camp's third morning, Rogillio had a scrape on her arm and a trickle of blood from more than one fall to the pavement.

"She falls, she gets right back up," Allison Rogillio said.

Her grandmother became interested because she thought it'd be good exercise. Carol Wheatly took a week's vacation from her telecommunications engineering job in Manhattan because she watched skaters in Central Park and realized her self-taught style looked nothing like them.

"Their movement and flow was so artistic," she said. "I realized I was doing this all wrong."

So she signed up with Zephyr tours, started by former Cargill financial manager Allan Wright three years ago. Eleven customers went on three tours in 1997; about 260 people on 17 tours will go to Europe and the East Coast this year. Three skate camps in Lanesboro were added this year for the first time.

Wheatly and other campers were taught the essentials the first day: Always wear a helmet, wrist, elbow and knee protectors to give peace of mind against that dreaded 'F' word, and learn how to fall the proper way. That means dropping forward to your knees, then to your hands rather than falling backward, which can result in broken wrists.

The next step was the big one: Learning how to stop. When done properly, rubber scraping on pavement sounds like a car that needs its brakes overhauled. To campers, though, it was cause for celebration during a week in which skaters, some of whom came by themselves, bonded in a pursuit their husbands and children considered crazy.

"I didn't even know it was supposed to make that sound until I got here," said Kathy Sena, a freelance writer from California. "But I like it."

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