Eleven-year-old Priya Rastogi of Redmond has been skating for almost as long as she can remember.
Her mother Ira, who was born in India and immigrated to Buffalo, N.Y. before moving to the Seattle area 11 years ago, wanted Priya to be able to skate with friends for fun, so she made sure her eldest daughter got an early start.
“We lived in Everett, and in front of our house there was a roller skating rink,” Ira said. “I put Priya in a beginner’s class, she was still in my hands, very young. She started skating, and she loved it.”
That was around her fourth birthday, and ever since then she’s been hooked on the sport.
Priya, and her sister Pooja, 8, trek up to the Marysville Skating Club several times a week to practice and train for figure roller skating competitions, the next of which will be the Roller Skating National Championships in Lincoln, Neb. later this month.
While Pooja, who attends Rosa Parks Elementary, qualified for her first national event during this year’s regionals in Portland, her older sister is no stranger to competition. Priya has participated in “figures,” “loops,” “freestyle” and “pairs” events.
“We have been to regionals, which is three states competing against each other, and I have been doing national championships around the country,” Priya said. “I’ve been to California, Nebraska and Florida.”
Priya’s best individual finish was fifth at nationals last year, but she skated her way to a silver medal for her performance in a pairs event with Andrew Minieri of Redwood City, Calif.
“I have a lot of memories from nationals, and some were sad, like when I sat with my daughter in the back room of the skating ring and we cried because she didn’t make it,” Ira remembered. “But the good memories were when she made it, she came very close to placing last year.”
This year, Ira’s proudest moment was when she found out that her younger daughter Pooja, who didn’t skate at all last year due to waning interest, qualified for nationals due to a rule change which enabled six skaters to qualify in certain divisions instead of four.
“When she came back this year she was pretty far behind, but the coach encouraged her to do regionals just for experience,” Ira said. “We figured she skated really, really good (at regionals), and still it was a very tough competition and felt there was a very small chance.”
While she would have been willing to accept that only one of her daughters would be competing in Nebraska come late July, nothing could have prepared her for the surprise she got when it was announced who earned the sixth, and final, qualifying spot in the Primary Girls’ division.
“As soon as they announced (Pooja’s) name, everyone started screaming, I couldn’t hear anything after that. I went into a daze,” Ira recalled. “It was so amazing, just to feel that your kids made it.”
AN UNKNOWN SPORT
According to a recent American Sports Data survey, nearly 40 million people participate in either roller skating or inline skating every year, but many involved in the sport feel that competitive skating is still on the fringe of acceptance.
“A lot of people don’t really know about the sport at all,” Ira said. “It goes though phases. Some years it’s very famous and some years, not.”
According to Priya, there were about 600 people watching the skaters at the national championships in the stadium as well as countless others online through a live webcast — the first year that they have broadcasted the tournament through the Web.
Additionally, the sport has expanded in recent years to become a part of the Asian and Pan-American games, and has seen a gradual increase in youngsters getting competitive about roller skating.
“I’m very excited. Roller skating is not such a big, well-known sport, but every year it’s such a lot of hard work,” Ira said of her daughters competing on a national level. “I ask myself, ‘how am I doing this, what is the gain?’, but the end result when we go and see our kids skate on that floor, I think everything is paid for.”
Like any parent would be, Ira was initially concerned about the safety of her kids participating in such a fast-paced, injury-prone sport.
“I’ve smashed up my knees and elbows, but otherwise no,” said Priya when asked if she’d sustained any major injuries while skating. “But I know people who have … one girl had to have surgery.”
Ira added, “as far as we’ve been skating for so many years, we’re fortunate to have never seen a major injury.”
Priya cited the thrill of victory and landing a difficult jump as some of the things she loves most about skating, as well as the friends she made and spent time with them over the years.
The soon-to-be seventh grader at Northshore Junior High offered the following tip to those that want to learn how to skate faster.
“You really have to bend your knees and push, and don’t be scared,” Priya said. “The more scared you are, the more loose you’ll be, and you’re going to end up falling more than if you stay tight and aggressive.”
Tim Watanabe can be reached at email@example.com or at (425) 453-0353.