Thursday, August 07, 2008

On a roll

On weekends, several youngsters take part in roller skating sessions near the Nehru stadium at Kaloor

By Shevlin Sebastian

At 5 p.m., on a tarred patch, next to the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, a group of skaters and parents have congregated. The children are in the 4-10 year age group and are dressed in leotards, helmets, knee and elbow pads and, of course, roller skates. It is a cloudy day, and a breeze is blowing.

Coach S. Rajesh, of the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium Roller Skating Club, says, “Go!” and the skaters set off rapidly, keeping close to the red, green and yellow plastic pointers. Leading the pack is ten-year-old Mithun. Behind him are Ashish, Aditya, Ashwin, Prithvi and the bespectacled Vishnu.

Vishnu’s parents, S. Venu and Renuka, are watching the proceedings intently. “Vishnu took to skating accidentally,” says Venu. One day, the family was driving past the stadium when Vishnu saw the skaters and expressed an interest. “That’s how we came here,” says Venu. “He has been doing it for more than a year.”

Vishnu, 8, has graduated to speed skates, but his drawback is that there is no space at home to practice during the week. “But skating has been good for him,” says Venu. “It has given him happiness and friendship. He has developed the fighting spirit because of the races that take place at the end of the session.”

For Renuka, the tangible benefit has been that her son has developed a healthy appetite and a good night’s sleep.

“I have realised that physical exercise is a must for children,” she says. Vishnu says he likes the excitement of going on wheels. “Initially, when I was learning, I had fallen many times,” he says.

This is what is happening to four-and-a-half-year old Shradha, dressed in white leotards. “Shradha has got new speed skates, hence she has to get used to it,” says her mother, Twincy Manoj, who is offering words of encouragement to her daughter.

Twincy and husband Manoj brought the child for skating lessons, so that she can participate in some sport, instead of sitting in front of the TV. “Skating will improve her physical strength, without losing her femininity,” says Manoj.

Meanwhile, Mithun continues to be in the lead, pushing hard with his legs, to go faster and faster. He practices every day on the terrace of his house. “I do about 20rounds,” he says. “I enjoy skating because of the speed. I like it more than cricket or football.”

Mithun’s five-year-old sister, Uma, is also a skater. “I like skating because it is like dancing,” she says.

There are 25 boys and girls who are skating on this Saturday evening. “There were more than 50 during the summer vacation,” says Rajesh. “Now, schools have begun, and the rainy season is a dampener.”

Rajesh holds his two-hour long classes on Saturday and Sunday evenings. The initial expenses are around Rs 500 for a pair of skates, Rs 175 for knee and elbow pads, and Rs 75 for the headgear, apart from the monthly fees.

By now, the skaters have done about 50 rounds and nobody looks tired. In the middle of the rink, there is a group of boys and girls who are taking steps gingerly. Rajesh is encouraging them with soft words. Some fall on their buttocks regularly.

So, how risky is the sport? “It is just like learning to walk when we were babies,” says T.K. Prathapan, committee member of the skating club. “We walk, fall down, walk and fall down again. That is what also happens in skating.”

So far, only one boy, Akhil, a good skater, had suffered an injury. “He fell directly on his elbow,” says Rajesh. Akhil was about to graduate to speed skates when this happened.

“He was very disappointed,” says the coach. “I went to see him in the hospital. His father said that Akhil would be back the moment his arm has healed.”

But not all children will carry on. By the time they reach twelve years of age, when the pressure of studies grows, parents begin to withdraw the children. “The children are not bored with skating, but parents are worried about their academic performance,” he says. “In Kerala, parents give so much emphasis on studies.”

But, despite the withdrawals, the young coach carries on.

(Copyright: The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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