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Inline speed skating? In Richmond? With kids?

Skating Away the Years

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They cut and slice around and around the East End rink like little roller demons, impossibly fast, impossibly close to one another, their inline skates impossibly big on their pre-adult feet, and yet they do not fall.

That's just for warm-ups. By the time the Richmond Rolling Warriors are doing their full-speed and four-member relay practices, you've got a severe case of drop-jaw and symptoms of advanced inline speed skating-envy.

Inline speed skating? In Richmond? With kids?

You betcha. And we've got some of the fastest four-wheel feet anywhere, like those of 16-year-old Jake Snelson, a sophomore at Thomas Dale High School in Chesterfield County and the Junior Olympics champion for his age class in the sport. Snelson mumbles in typical adolescent monosyllables about his accomplishment, but his record two-minute-and-twelve-second mile (average speed: 27 mph) speaks for him.

Rolling Warriors coach Dean Wood says the four-year-old team fields competitors from eight to 48 years old and expects to do well in regional competition in North Carolina in June and at nationals in Lincoln, Neb., in August. (They spent Easter weekend at a meet in Fayetteville, N.C.)

Wood also competes himself, and has since inline skates became widely available in the early '90s. "These have actually been around longer than roller skates ... since forever," he says.

The dozen or so Rolling Warriors are a wing of the Roanoke Rapids skating team, a 60-member squad that boasts a member of the inline speed skating world team, whatever that is. Anyway, the sport will be on exhibit during the Olympics in September — previously the best inline speed skaters could only hope for careers in its similar-looking cousin, speed ice skating, where some have gone on to win Olympic medals — so you may want to check it out. Or just head down to Cavalier Family Skating on Williamsburg Road, where the Rolling Warriors practice three to four times a week.

"It's addictive," says Diane Valentine, a member with kids Johnny, 13; and Tori, 12. "I'm doing it mainly for fitness, and it's the only sport you can really fairly compete at with your

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