You're Not Too Old To Skate

Article and Photos By ELLEN LIANG /


SEATTLE – After a motorcyle crash in 1964 shattered his leg and ankle, any high-impact exercise was too painful for David Burch. Even hiking was out. Then, two years ago, he and his wife Vena tried skating. It came so naturally to them that one lesson and two weeks later, they skated a half-marathon, finishing in 90 minutes. These days the 62-year-olds compete in races and marathons, logging up to 2,000 miles a year.

"There are times it's easier to skate than to walk," David said.

Once considered a young person’s sport, in recent years more baby boomers and seniors have been strapping on inline skates. At Get Your Bearings skating school, about 70 percent of students are 40-plus and more than 10 percent are over 59, said owner Sue Bream. All her instructors are in their 40s and 50s.

Fifty-three-year-old Ed Isaacson took up inline skating after a heart attack nine years ago. First he began a walking program, but when he watched people skating by him he decided to try it. Three years later, he took an aggressive skating class and began studying to become a certified instructor.

Now he skates about 10 hours a week, including teaching three classes, and does up to four marathons a year. One year he logged 1,200 miles.

“It’s a good cardio workout and it’s low impact,” he said. “The heart is in very good shape now.”


Kay Davidson, 66, takes it slower but is no less passionate. Skating has become a big part of her life for the past two years -- she finds it a perfect form of exercise as well as a great social activity.

“Lots of different sports gave me backaches, like biking,” she said. “Starting at my age, I’m not as far along as a younger person. I’m still leery of trying certain things because I’m afraid to fall. I want to go faster but I need to develop strength first.”

Kay has skated up to six miles a day. Sometimes, when she skates around her neighborhood park, some of the older people walking by say: “Be careful now!” she laughed. “Skating makes me feel like a kid again.”

Ice rinks also attract a number of seniors. "Over the years we've had many," said Melva Ohlemeier, who works at Highland Ice Arena in Seattle. "We just lost one, she was around 80, and another man, also in his 80's, was skating till he broke his ankle. I notice in public sessions a lot of older people come in with their grandkids."

Because it's low-impact, skating is much easier on the knees than running. It's a good aerobic exercise, burning about 400 to 500 calories an hour at a leisurely pace.


davidvernaburch (19088 bytes)“It’s a really great exercise but you have to have a little balance before you start,” said Roberta McMichael, a physical therapist at Virgina Mason Medical Center. “There’s a lot of talk about 'core' (abdominal) stability and this is one of the few exercises that works the trunk and lateral hip muscles…the side-to-side

Skating is also a good training for other exercises, like skiing, biking and tennis, she added.



David and Verna Burch

The big drawback of the sport is, of course, the risk of falling. That's why protective equipment is essential – wrist pads (the primary injuries in skating are to wrists and hands), elbow pads, knee pads and helmets. Padded shorts can prevent injury to the back and hips.

Both Vena and David have taken a few nasty falls so now they wear Crash Pads (padded shorts). Although she thinks she's in the best shape since high school, Vena said: “My aged bones don’t take falls well, fall are really jarring…we just don’t mend that well so prevention is the best thing.”

Most falls occur because of the inability to stop in time or in traffic-related situations, according to McMichael.

“Falling on an outstretched arm is the big one to avoid,” she said.

Experts recommend extra caution for those with poor balance or anyone diagnosed with osteoporosis. And those with poor hearing need to be more visually aware of their surroundings, said Bream.

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Ed Isaacson

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Kay and Instructor Monica


Here are some essential
tips for safe skating:

- Learn how to stop, fall and get up
   (best to take lessons for this).

- If you’re a beginner, practice in an empty parking lot.

- Be wary of rough terrain and hills.

- Warm up with gentle stretching.

- Supplement skating with gym exercise.
   Work on the hip adductor (inner thigh) muscles.

- Skate within your comfort zone.