I learned to roller skate during a pandemic — and healed trauma along the way

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During a pandemic that has everyone worried about germs, finding Lysol is hard. But finding a pair of roller skates? Now that’s even harder.

Roller skating has become the “it-girl” pastime for Gen-Zers and millennials in quarantine — and it’s all thanks to TikTok. If you swipe through the app for just a minute or two, you will inevitably come across a roller-skating video. In these mesmerizing and oddly soothing clips, skaters glide with fluid, weightless movements set to song. They look joyful and at peace, even amid the current chaos in the world. As a viewer, you can’t help but want to capture that feeling, along with the childlike bliss of roller skating.

So how hard is it to become an ethereal woman on eight wheels? Well, when you first put on roller skates, you will look more like a baby deer on a slippery patch of ice. Each step is wobbly and uncertain and, frankly, terrifying. You’ll scoot along the pavement in jolts of terror rather than effortlessly glide. And you’ll fall. Oh, you will fall.

Credit: Impala

One month ago, when I strapped on roller skates for the first time ever, I expected to fall. But my hardest fall wasn’t a blacktop, skinned-knee tumble. It was down a hole of buried childhood trauma I didn’t expect to dig up due to an innocent TikTok trend.

I meant for this story to be a silly documentation of my attempts to be a “cool teen” at the ripe old age of 28. Instead, it turned into therapy.

The roller skating resurgence on TikTok stems from several magnetizing skaters, most notably Ana Coto, who has more than 2.2 million followers on the platform. Timing also has something to do with it. After all, roller skating is the perfect solo hobby for a slightly apocalyptic world. 

In quarantine, many adults reverted back to carefree childhood hobbies to cope. From puzzles to tie-dye to model building, social distancing has brought on many childlike ways to kill time. And, that includes roller skating.

“There has definitely been an uptick over recent months — and we’ve been hustling to keep up with demand,” Impala Skates CEO Matt Hill says of the popularity of roller skating. Impala is arguably at the forefront of affordable roller skates for Gen-Z and millennials. “Even since quarantine has lifted in the U.S., we’ve only seen demand grow, which shows there is a huge movement beyond just the quarantine and COVID.”

Hill adds, “We love that skating is helping people get through lockdown, keep healthy and stay connected as a community during a time that can otherwise feel quite isolating.”

This rekindling of childhood passions, including rollerskating, is arguably the result of copious spare time coupled with the sudden shock of mortality a global pandemic can bring. Arguably, it’s a coping mechanism for an uncertain world, allowing you to retreat to a place that’s full of comforting memories and carefree bliss.

I have never felt particularly connected to my childhood, let alone any childhood hobbies. I always tell people I was raised to be a “mini adult,” with behavior expectations and strict rules that didn’t encourage childhood exploration or typical rambunctious behavior. I grew up sheltered from other kids besides my sister, never going to playgroups and rarely seeing friends outside of school.

I also lacked hobbies as a child, besides a stint as a dancer until age 9 when my parents decided not to sign me up again. I spent all my time with books, Barbies, television and those ridiculous ‘90s fuzzy coloring posters. I had a bike I never learned to ride and roller blades that never lost their training wheels.

My memories of childhood are weak and hazy, distant and lacking vibrance. Any recollections I do have are mostly collected and triggered by other people’s stories. I’ve been told by doctors that this is a symptom of PTSD, a self-preservation method that has kept out the good and the bad, resulting in a blob of nothingness.

But seeing women on TikTok gliding along blacktop plucked at something within me. Even at 28 and far from a cool it-girl teen, I wanted to be like them. They are totally and gorgeously free, both channeling childlike joy and oozing powerful, confident femininity. They are flowing, free and happy. They are held down by nothing.

When I first strapped on my Impala roller skates, I automatically felt giddy with nervous excitement. Impalas are the skates to learn on, balancing both quality and affordability, as oft-expensive as roller skates go. Though the brand won’t share sales figures, finding their roller skates online is virtually impossible — and has been for nearly all of 2020.

Credit: Impala

Learning to roller skate takes a risk. It takes looking utterly ridiculous as you fumble to move. It takes acceptance of inevitable scrapes, bruises and falls. It takes channeling your childhood bravery, something that we tend to lose as we age.

It took a friend’s gentle yet relentless encouragement over video chat to finally get me to stand up in my skates. You know that stomach-dropping moment when you have to catch yourself from falling on a patch of black ice? Imagine that distilled sense of terror with every single move you make.

Turns out, effortlessly gliding like a roller-skating star takes a lot of effort — not to mention skill, practice and patience.

Even now, a full month into my journey, I’m far from a roller skating TikTok baddie. I’m not terrified, but I’m not a confident roller skating goddess twirling on New York City sidewalks. And I’m certainly not skilled enough to show off my moves — frankly because I have yet to acquire any moves. I only just mastered skating in a straight line with proper technique and stopping without having to grab the nearest stationary object. These skills aren’t exactly going to make me the next Ana Coto, but they do feel like progress.

But learning to roller skate has been more than learning to stand on eight wheels without looking like an icy fawn. Skating gifted me a genuine type of purely youthful fun. It’s the adrenaline of being in a moderately terrifying situation mixed with giggly and giddy childlike joy that’s likely familiar to most, but somewhat foreign to me.

But even if I’m only a single step up from a hot mess on wheels, skating has helped me finally channel childhood. Grasping that long-illusive feeling of youthful wonder helped me realize though I wasn’t “allowed” to be a child all those years ago, I can still reach that curious, adventurous little girl inside of me who has long been denied.

When I’m skating, I’m totally and gorgeously free, channeling childlike joy and oozing powerful, confident femininity. I’m flowing, free and happy. I am held down by nothing.

Finding roller skates, let alone popular Impala roller skates, is extremely difficult due to the incredible popularity of roller skating. Check out Impala skates at the below retailers, listed by where they are most readily available.

Shop: Impala Roller Skates At Smallables, $114

Credit: Smallables

Shop: Impala Roller Skates At Tilly’s, $94.99

Credit: Tilly’s

Shop: Impala Roller Skates At Amazon, $95+

Credit: Amazon

Shop: Impala Roller Skates At Zappos, $95

Credit: Zappos

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