Seniors Add Skates to Subtract Years
Orlando Sentinel (Florida)
December 26, 2005 Monday
Daphne Sashin, Sentinel Staff Writer
SECTION: LOCAL & STATE; FLORIDA; Pg. B1
KISSIMMEE — With two new hips, an artificial knee, hearing aids, a pacemaker, arthritis and four screws in her back, it might seem that Sarah Gruber, 79, is not the best candidate for a day at the roller rink.
But there she was, as usual, hiking up her beige stockings, slipping into a pleated denim miniskirt and lacing up her brown skates.
Just in case, under her stockings, the petite widow from Cocoa wore a thick gel pad over each kneecap for protection.
“This one’s been replaced,” Gruber said, patting her right knee, “and I decided I didn’t want to take a chance on the other one.”
More than 50 vigorous seniors from all over Central Florida showed up for the regular Wednesday morning adult session at Skate Reflections in Kissimmee last week. Many had been there the week before. Most would be back the next. On the days between, some would go bowling or ballroom dancing. But others, unable to wait a week, would drive to roller rinks in Melbourne and Casselberry for a skating fix.
“If I couldn’t skate, I don’t know what I’d do,” said Gruber, who started skating in the 1930s and has never stopped. “Now, all I have to do is get up,” she said, gently pushing herself up from the booth where she was taking a break.
The average age of the skaters that day was about 68, and many were in their 70s. They come for the socializing, the exercise, the dazzling outfits and the live organ music they remember from their teenage years.
But more than all that, some said, there is a kind of transformation that takes place under the confetti lights of the spinning disco ball. It’s enough to overcome loneliness, stiff joints and other troubles of advancing age.
“Once you put these boots on, it’s magic,” said Jeannine Nowicki, 59, a snowbird from Buffalo, N.Y., who skates competitively with her husband, Carl, 67. “When you skate, you feel like you’re 20 years old again.”
It is amazing, skaters said, the way fragile limbs regain their flexibility here. Some of them can barely walk to their cars, but they have no problem whizzing around a maple floor for four hours on little wheels.
“When you see these people in the parking lot, you would never believe that they were on skates,” said Karola Conner, 64, whose skating partner is 82.
Between them, Lee and Skip Fox figured they had two good legs to skate on. She had arthroscopic surgery on her right knee two weeks before; he underwent a similar procedure on his left knee in July.
“It’s amazing. Everyone here has had someone that would put somebody else to bed. But not skaters,” said Lee Fox, 76.
It was just past noon, more than two hours into the session, and organist Nick Viscuso was calling out commands to the skaters.
“OK, we’re going to have a Christmas trio, so grab your partners. . . . And you can sing along. You can have a foursome if you like, too,” Viscuso said, as the skaters stretched out their arms in small chains and breezed by.
Viscuso, a Realtor in Longwood, has played the organ for the seniors at Skate Reflections since 1999, when owner Larry Cole heard him at a rink in Pennsylvania and persuaded him to move to Florida.
The skaters love the way Viscuso interacts with the crowd.
“There’s no other place like it,” said Richard MacCrea, 74, who drove 45 miles from his home in Winter Haven.
Alas, roller skating is not without hazards. During a number for advanced skaters, the music abruptly stopped. A man was down.
David Terpstra, 53, lay on his back. He had turned to skate backward when his legs went sideways, and he tumbled onto his tailbone. But soon enough, he was back on his feet and the group cheered him on.
“Put some ice on that baby. You don’t want that to swell up,” one man told him.
The spill illustrated why the more cautious skaters stay away from backward skating, fancy dance moves and partners.
“I did a cha-cha-cha with a partner,” said Lea Canwell, 66, of Kissimmee, remembering her brief foray into pair skating. “He hit my wheels and I started cha-cha-cha-ing all over the place, and I grabbed the wall. I almost fell. That was scary.”
But at least everyone can enjoy the outfits. This is one of the very few places where women in their 60s and 70s feel free to show off their legs in short, spandex skirts or form-fitting velour dresses.
“At first, I didn’t want to put a skirt on, because I didn’t want to show my legs,” said Anna Santoro, 67, of Winter Haven, sporting a floral blouse and black sequined skirt. “You see other women wearing them, you get more comfortable. A lot of us women don’t have bad-looking legs, either.”