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By Hugh Fisher
For the Salisbury Post
At the sound of a whistle, the group of speed skaters took off from the line, pushing their in-line rollerblades madly across the polished floor at Kidsports in Salisbury
Bending and leaning to get the best possible aerodynamics, the competitors rounded the curves at both ends of the rink as tightly-packed as the leaders of any stock-car race.
On the straightaways, the skaters gained as much speed as possible and passed one another if an opportunity arose.
Lap after lap, amid the screams and shouts of encouragement from several hundred spectators, the sound of the wheels on the skating rink was barely audible. Then the crowd gasped as one to see one of the skaters lose her footing, careen off the track and tumble into the padded wall.
Less than two minutes later, the winner crossed the finish line just a few feet away as the fallen skater picked herself up, checked a scrape on her elbow, and made her way back to her teammates many of whom, like her, are between 7 and 10 years of age.
Speed skating is a challenging task for competitors of any age, but youth certainly seemed to rule the day at last weekends N.C. State Invitational meet.
These boys mean business, said Dean Wood, the emcee of Saturdays meet, who also heads the Salisbury branch of the multi-state Rolling Warriors speed skating club.
He pointed to the rink where skaters in the Novice Sophomore Mens division were racing. That division is made up of 14- and 15-year-old boys.
On this floor, theyll finish 500 meters in 48 seconds, Wood said.
The event was held over the course of Saturday and Sunday and attracted skaters from North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia.
Although it was a sanctioned race overseen by USA Roller Sports the governing body of speed skating Wood said the invitational meet in Salisbury wouldnt count toward the national championship. In laymens terms, this is a tune-up race, he said.
But a number of the competitors from the Salisbury meet will skate in the Southeast Regional Championships in Fayetteville on June 17 and 18.
The best skaters will move on to the U.S. Indoor Speed Skating Nationals in Omaha, Neb., on July 16 and 17.
But a lot of the people skating at Kidsports last weekend were there just for fun. Keith Mitchell of Salisbury got into speed skating as an adult.
Mitchell trains year-round with the Rolling Warriors, but isnt in it to win national awards.
Its a way to work out, said Mitchell, who works for the Rowan County YMCA. I wouldnt call it a hobby. Its the hardest thing Ive ever done. Its harder than ice hockey.
There have been some changes to the sport over the years. In-line skates replaced the traditional, four-wheeled quad skates about 15 years ago, for instance.
And now, more than ever, people are coming to the sport at a young age. During Saturdays mid-morning heats, there seemed to be more skaters under the age of 18 than over it.
Kirstyn Scales of Greensboro and Richard Cole of High Point, both age 7, were teamed up for a relay race during Saturday mornings round of competition. Both said skating is something they just love to do, though Kirstyn admitted to being a little bit nervous in the minutes before their race.
Im not nervous, said Richard, confidently.
His grandmother, Maureen Eggers, chimed in: This is his fifth meet. Hes not nervous, but I am!
Michelle Scales, Kirstyns mother, was a speed skater in her younger years; so was Kirstyns father. They got their daughter started in speed skating last year when Kirstyn was 6.
We started her out with ice skates first, Michelle Scales said. But she just wanted to go fast.
Aside from competition, Dean Wood said that the Rolling Warriors coach and train roller skaters of any age. The best of the best find friendship and fun in the competitive skating arenas of North Carolina and elsewhere in the southeast.This is the most competitive region in the U.S., Wood said.
Contact Hugh Fisher at 704-797-4245 or hfisher@salisburypost.com.

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