Planet Column > Skate Coach
by Kathy McSparran

Making It Up Those Hills
One lung or two ... asthma or not ... you can do it!

Q&A: I was wondering if you could help me? I love to skate but I have asthma. My problem is the hills at Disney. I have skated the Disney half marathon every year. I train on a bridge here in Tampa. I also climb 16 flights of stairs five days a week and take my inhaler before start of the race. But I just can't seen to get up the hills without trouble. Do you have any advice? - Gayle in Florida

Hi, Gayle! I think I can help you get up those hills! But before we start, I want to share something with you. ... I have also skated the Disney Marathon several times, and my favorite Disney memory of all is actually from the year I did not finish the full marathon!

Here's what happened:

I tripped over a cone in the middle of the course and fell. I sprinted to catch up to my paceline but, exhausted, fell again on the slippery boardwalk. I realized that I couldn't catch up to my paceline, so I just decided to skate at a relaxed pace and enjoy myself. I let the whole lycra-clad crowd pass me.

At a rest stop on a hill, I noticed that the race staff appeared to be shorthanded. I stopped to help.

A woman came crashing into the rest area. She was breathing hard, rubbery-legged and looked ready to cry.  

I kept her company while she caught her breath and told me her amazing story. She was a lung cancer survivor who was left with only one lung. She had taken up inline skating to help her through chemo and the trying times after surgery.

This half marathon was supposed to be the culmination of her complete comeback from cancer. But no one had warned her about the hills.

Skating with only one lung, she couldn't get enough oxygen to sustain the effort needed to climb the hills. She was disappointed almost to the point of tears. She thought she wouldn't be able to finish the race. 

My heart went out to her. I told her she could finish if she would just let me give her a little help. She agreed and off we went. 

When we came to a hill, we formed a mini-draft line with me behind her. I put two fingers of my right hand on her lower back and pushed with a steady, gentle pressure. We formed a kind of "energy return system." She blocked the wind; I returned the favor by giving her a gentle push with my two fingers.

We weren't speeding up those hills. In fact, I had to remind her to take it easy when we started and to use the same effort she used on the flats, with me providing the extra boost.

Well, it worked. She couldn't believe a little 100-lb. skate instructor could "push" her up the hill.

People passing by shouted encouragement, like "You can do it!"  and "Almost there!" and "Hey, I want a push too!" Once we made it up the last hill, she continued on her own without my help and finished the half marathon.

After we both finished, she gave me a huge hug. With tears streaming down her face, she thanked me for helping her cross the finish line in her battle with cancer.

I only skated half of the 26.2 miles, but I've never had a more satisfying or meaningful marathon. I'll remember it forever.

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Related reading

• Go to Beginner's Guide to Inline Skating.

• Go to more of Kathy's Skate Coach columns.


Copyright © 2006 by Robert Burnson

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