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Seniors provide inspiration on wheels


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 5, 2001

On a day when your old-age rocking chair starts beckoning, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and head for the Suncoast Skating & Entertainment Center on County Line Road in Spring Hill.

On Friday mornings, you will see a group of graceful, beautifully costumed seniors dancing on roller skates and having a great time as they prepare for competition.

When I visited the rink recently, the skaters/dancers were in the midst of a dress rehearsal for a competition in Casselberry that weekend, while their coaches, Joan and Roy Hart of Spring Hill, kept a discerning eye on their skating.

All together, there must have been 20 skaters, and just watching them can lift your spirits and inspire you once again with the idea that age is just a number.

I'd be willing to bet you couldn't possibly guess their ages. I was absolutely surprised when I learned that some were in their mid to late 70s.

I was floored when I heard that one of them had just become a great-grandmother and that some hadn't skated since many, many years before their retirement.

I was downright jealous when I saw these slim figures swinging around the rink, dancing to the music of the organ that played some of the old favorites along with contemporary tunes.

There were some beginners waiting in the wings while the others danced, and I could tell they had a lot of confidence because no one looked scared to venture onto the floor.

New Yorkers may remember the old roller rink on Hillside Avenue in Queens. I wonder if it's still there.

After my family moved out of Manhattan, we settled in Richmond Hill. I walked to the rink one day. As a teenager in love with music and dancing, I immediately became entranced by the skaters, imagining myself as a dancer someday.

Unfortunately, I never made it back. So I was having the time of my life when I visited the rink on County Line Road, just hearing the music and watching some of my peers living out the dream I had so long ago.

Joan and Roy Hart teach a "basic adult" class on Wednesday mornings from 8:30 to 9:30 at $3 per person. They are certified coaches of artistic dance and have trained advanced skaters to compete in championships all over the country.

Their competitive adult skating team practices from 9 a.m. to noon on Fridays.

Joan hails from New Jersey; Roy's home state is Ohio.

Roy Hart says he has been skating since 1938. He was in the Navy as a submariner during World War II, and when he was in port at Brisbane, Australia, he headed for the skating rink when he had liberty.

"I skated in New Zealand, as well," he said. 'If you can dance on skates, you are welcomed in skating rinks all over the world."

Roy has won national championships sponsored by USA Roller Sports after being a Southern Region winner. The organization divides the United States into nine regions, with headquarters in Lincoln, Neb. The Southern Region is comprised of Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama.

Skater Irene Kopp of Hudson won a regional championship in 1996. She and her husband, Carl, skate several times a week in Pasco County.

Irene was born in Great Britain and came to this country 27 years ago.

Ruth Ross of Brooksville is a very talented skater. She raised five kids and told me she hadn't skated in 35 years when she decided to try it once again when she retired.

Her group came in third in a group of 18 skaters at Casselberry on Feb. 11.

"I learned how to skate on the sidewalks of Miami when I was a kid," she said.

Ruth is a native Floridian and skates four times a week at the Suncoast center.

I commented on her beautiful costume and learned she is a very accomplished seamstress who has made not only her own costumes, but also those of many other professional skaters here and up North.

I couldn't take my eyes off Mary McDonald of Ridge Manor, and her skating partner, John Wadsworth of New Port Richey.

John is a Korean War veteran, and he skates three or four times a week. He says he hadn't skated for more than 20 years when he came to Florida to retire. He is quite tall, and in his blue costume he makes a striking partner for Mary, who was costumed in blue and silver.

John came here in 1998 from New Jersey.

Mary says that skating keeps you out of the doctor's office, and judging by her slim, trim figure, she has found an exercise she really loves.

Mary is also an accomplished seamstress, and when she came to the Suncoast Skating & Entertainment Center, she had an ideal place to display her costumes.

Nancy Cain of Spring Hill and Paul Lafleur of Pasco County skate together often at the skating center. Paul is a retired Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer and a former ice hockey player. After 20 years of not skating at all, he decided to try roller skating when he retired. Paul and Nancy are excellent dancers and a pleasure to watch as they whirl around the skating rink.

The Suncoast center is owned by Nick and Sal Sessa, owners of the Show Palace Dinner Theatre on U.S. 19 in Hudson. It is open every day for all kinds of events.

If you want more information about the center and its many activities, call 688-0545. And remember, it doesn't cost anything to watch these amazing skaters -- and dream.

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