It was two years ago when his wife was out of town that Mark Virtue decided to find something that he and his young daughter, Madeline, could do together.
I decided on inline skating, because I remembered having fun on clamp-on quads as a kid. After stopping by several sports stores and obtaining inlines and protective gear for the both of us, we were ready for the great experiment. I moved our cars off the concrete parking pad and we donned our gear.
Skating sort of came back to me; nowadays I'd call what we did "waddling." Madeline fell face first and cut her lip. There was blood and tears and shouts of "I'm never going to do this!" So I held her, staunched the blood and took the skates off.
The next day, I told her I was heading out to skate and she wanted to skate again. And she waddled along. After a couple of weeks of skating in the driveway, I decided that it would be cool to skate to work. It's about a mile from where I get off the ferry to work, and I started to do that morning and evening. Pretty soon, I was skating further because I liked it so much and I was doing four miles in the morning and four miles in the evening.
After a month of this I was getting faster and wondering what there was skate-wise for going faster. So one evening, I was surfing the skate manufacturers’ websites looking at speed boots, when Madeline saw a pink Bont Vapor on the screen and wanted to know what it was. I explained that it was a speed boot and that you can go really fast with them. She then asked if women do this, and I said, “Yes.” She asked to see pictures of women in speed boots. I found a website with videos of women racing, and we watched all of them. While we watched, Madeline was quietly drawing. It was a woman speed skater!
I thought this was really cool. I started to track down the woman in the video, Julie Brandt. Well, it turns out that Julie had gotten married, was now Julie Glass and living just 30 miles from where we live. I sent her an email explaining Madeline's story and included a scan of the picture. We exchanged emails and tried to figure out where we could get together and have Madeline meet her. As it turns out, the Sunday of NW Regionals 2005 was the only day that would work out. So, after Madeline's dance recital, she and I drove down to Portland, OR. The next morning, we headed to the rink bright and early. Julie was not skating. She had a bye to Nationals for her relay as she was the defending champion (Senior 2-Mix). Madeline was entranced with the action.
Madeline watches skaters for the first time
This was my first experience taking pictures at a rink. It was very interesting. The meet was running so far ahead that when awards time came, the official awards photographer was not there. There was a call over the PA asking that the guy with the professional-looking camera please present himself to the announcer’s booth.
So I was taking the pictures of the awards and Madeline was sitting watching the ceremony, entranced. When the official photographer arrived and I packed up my stuff, Madeline wanted to stay for the rest of the awards, glued to the same spot on the floor.
When we got back to the car to start the trek home, I asked her if she wanted to do this and she said, "Yes!" and that she really wanted to get a flower (who cares about that gold medal). She also said that she was going to be a world champion like Julie. My answer: "If that is what you want, I will help you in every way I can."
Two years later, Madeline is well on her way. Last week, she and teammate Andrew Woolfolk placed third in the 2-mixed relay in the primary division at Indoor Nationals.
Mark, who is a software development engineer for Amazon.com, has skated a 55-second 500 meter, one of his goals in skating. His wife “thinks I'm nuts and have gone overboard. Getting up at 5 a.m. and seeing the inside of a darkened rink is not her idea of a good time.”
“My ultimate goal is to support Madeline and her sister, Samantha, in whatever endeavor they choose," Mark says. "But no matter what they do, I’ll still skate. I love the feel of the wind whistling past my head and the whir of bearings. It’s very liberating.”
Aside from skating, Mark helps coach Bremerton's inline speed skating team, the Bremerton Bullets. A professional photographer with 27 years of experience, originally with United Press International (UPI), he also takes thousands of photographs of skate events. He makes these photos available on DVD and CD for a small donation to Send the Best, an organization established to help support the U.S. World and Junior World Teams.
To view some of Mark’s skating photos, visit his photo page on the Bremerton Speed web site.
Copyright © 2007 by Robert Burnson