A Guide to Rollerblading in Denver

“You could even be a rollerblading unicorn.” – Dan Howell

Last summer, in 2016, I made a lot of changes in my life – intentionally.

I moved to a neighborhood where I knew I could walk to get ice cream (one of life’s essentials), where I could be closer to work, and namely, where I could be near the happenings of Denver. I also tried a new team sport, rugby, and joined a new church, too. I made these decisions and changes because I was in a season of deep knowing that if I was going to live the life I wanted, I had to move toward it. It was my responsibility, I recognized, to articulate and pursue what I desired, and that I could absolutely trust God to do the rest. Being brave in the thick of unknowns is one of the most devoted acts of faith, I think.

So, I did these things and, most importantly, bought my first pair of rollerblades since I was, like, 10. Sports Authority had filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy and was going out of business. Thus, they had incredible sales and deals that you wouldn’t have been able to find elsewhere. While perusing the store, my mom and stumbled upon a really nice pair of blades – knee pads, elbow pads, and wrist guards – all for $70. It was a steal.

I had started dreaming about rollerblading again when, while in Rwanda, I stopped at a rural bus stop and saw a gentleman energetically serving cool fruit juices in a blue tub, while on blades. I smiled, gasped, and knew then that yes! I wanted to blade again. When I was young, I played roller hockey with my brother and friends any opportunity I could get. Rollerblading had made me feel strong and free, and I knew that I wanted this again.

So, for the last 1 ½ years, I have been cruising around Denver in my gear, happily and enthusiastically rollerblading. Chelsea has joined me a lot this last year, and it has been a joy to share the experience with her. Rollerblading is amazing for a lot of reasons. It’s refreshing. It’s fun. And, it works nearly every muscle of your body. It is a kind of sport that challenges the parts of your body to be in perfect synchronization with one another.

If you also are intrigued about the idea of suiting up in blades and helmets, here’s a quick overview of what you need to know.

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  1. Get a reliable pair of rollerblade It is essential to identify what exactly you want the blades for because there are better blades for racing, for indoor skating, and for recreational use. This link has exceptional recommendations. For me, I knew that I wanted to skate outdoors (no racing) so I could simply enjoy the views and have an alternative way of getting exercise. For this purpose, K2 has proven to be an excellent brand of skates.
  2. Before committing to a long ride, practice! If you haven’t skated in a while, you will feel a bit strange and a whole lot of awkward on your skates. Definitely try to get comfortable with your skates before heading over to a park and showing off your skills.
  3. For the love, wear safety gear. This should be self-explanatory, but PLEASE wear a helmet. I often to see bladers cruising along in jean shorts, with their hair down, and with no helmet. Sometimes they even have a boombox on their shoulder (and no, it’s not 1992). This gives me the heebie-jeebies. Blading can be dangerous because at times, there are unidentified objects in the road (like twigs) that you can trip over and land face first. Be safe. Wear a helmet.
  4. Scope out good routes. Denver has a good selection of recreational paths for rollerblading. Without question, my go-to-choice is Washington Park. The inner loop is 2.1 miles, all with relatively good pavement. There are sections where the cement and asphalt is particularly “groovy” (and not in a good way) so that causes some extra strain on your feet. Washington Park has also recently redesigned the paths (don’t get me started) so it can be kind of confusing where the lanes go. The big rule of thumb: pedestrians have the right of way. You should always blade closer to the right, only passing on the left when necessary. Other great routes include Sloan’s Lake and the Cherry Creek Trail. City Park looks like a viable option, but I would be a bit hesitant for the lack of connection of some of the pavement. I would walk any route first, before committing to rollerblade on it. This gives you a better sense of the terrain.
  5. Bring water (and snacks). Blading works your legs (like woah). Make sure you stay energized and hydrated to keep your body strong while on the trail.
  6. Dont listen to music while on skates. I used to listen to my podcasts and blade at the same time. However, I’ve almost been hit by cyclists because I couldn’t hear the background noises of what was happening around me. So, this is a good safety measure that ensures you are aware of all that is passing by you.
  7. Keep your blades in your car with all of your other gear. You never know when you might want to go blading. I keep my stuff in a large bag in my trunk so that if it happens to be a gorgeous day and I’m driving by the park, I have the option to blade. This is also nice so you don’t always have to move your blades in and out of your house.

Have fun with your skates, the sunshine, and the invigorating experience of blading in Denver.

Enjoy the ride.

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A Letter to You, Grandma.

Dear Grandma Genevra,

Sometimes, I imagine you were here still.

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I think about the walks we would take; the honest conversations we would have; the mere joy of the company we would keep. We became close even when I was so very young, but somehow, I think you saw the woman I would be, long before I have become that woman.

That makes me miss you more.

When I think of you, I think of home.

Your home – the one with stale smells of summer lining narrow, beige hallways. The one that was held together by the loose hinges of the faded black door. When opened, between the cluttered garage and crammed foyer, it never failed to screech, announcing our arrival haphazardly. The six floors of your duplex mesmerized my imagination; I could ride the elliptical in the basement; play Oregon Trail in the computer room; smell coffee in the dining area; watch Care Bears in the living room; and try on your array of shoes in your bedroom. You kept that hot pink-striped comforter for enough years on your bed that it began to smell of you; like freshly picked sunflowers with a hint of lavender.

Your home was aged, like a vintage wine. Chips, dings, and stonewashed colors signaled that the walls, wood floors, and pillars had all been well-worn. With life. Good life. Always, and even still, scruffy places with “character” are far more comforting than the sleek, untainted, modern, and untouched lines that are “cutting edge”. Maybe that’s why I like Goodwill so much.

You never needed to invite us in or cautiously encourage us to “make ourselves at home” – it was an understanding – we were home. With you, we were always in.

Without hesitation, we often bounced with our full backpacks to your retro pea-green refrigerator for a snack. Sometimes, in the corner, moldy cheese would be hardened from insufficient closing of the package. I’d bite into the cheddar anyway. You’d store your diet cokes here too, bringing one, two, or sometimes three for our visits to one of Aurora’s many libraries.

You know you taught me to love reading, right?

From Mia Hamm biographies, to stories on the Civil Rights, and re-readings of anything by Laura Ingalls Wilder, you spurred us to explore and to ask questions. You revealed to us the beauty of libraries, the glory of the Dewey decimal system, and the benefits of unlimited check-out privileges. Even if Lance and I came bearing ten books each, you hardly batted an eye.

Before Garry would return home from his work in the oil industry, we would nibble on ripe, red delicious apples and watch Oprah. She was our favorite. The round, mahogany kitchen table, adjacent to your numerous potted plants, held Oprah magazines stacked on TIME Magazines with bills to be paid chaotically scattered about. The caller ID box for incoming phone calls was buried somewhere here, too. By no means were you an organized woman. But, what you lacked in tidiness was made up for in gritty devotion. So for that, thanks.

Every Wednesday, you cooked us slightly burnt grilled cheese. Then, Lance, you, and I would scurry to your room to explore further our library treasures and bounty. As a young girl, merely five or six, I demanded that when sharing your bed, you were, “not to cross your line,” and stay on your “side” of the bed. I know you found this hilarious. Especially since I would often end up cuddling with you anyway.

You didn’t stop having us over to spend the night. Not when we entered middle school, and not when mom and dad divorced.

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The openness of your heart –and your space – propelled me to be a woman that continues to seek out safety in community and place. I recognize it, largely because you impressed upon me, at an early age, what it means to invest in safe places for people. Thank you for that, too. It took me a long time to realize what you and Garry did for Lance and I all those years.

Space. Breathing room. Curiosity.

You were my angel then, as my family split a part, as you are my angel now.

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How can this be? Angels can’t live here.

When you entered long-term “rehab” at the nursing facility, I stepped inside and instantly recoiled. A woman of tenacity and feistiness, I couldn’t imagine your confines to be so limiting. Residents roamed the halls idly, often so heavily medicated that reality had slipped far away from them.

I continued to note the same softness of your skin, the deep blue kindness of your eyes. Yet, your movements slowed, your voice stopped, and multiple sclerosis slowly took you away.

Eight long years of that hellish nightmare.

Occasionally, when I would visit the nursing home during my nights off from Dairy Queen, you would choke on your own spit from laughing too hard. Other times, you barely moved and stared at the wall without the slightest glance my way. I hated these times. I hated them because I knew you were inside your body, but your physical armor had worn away. It was frustrating, confusing, and painful. You didn’t deserve that kind of suffering, grandma. I don’t know why things happen the way they do, but I know that your life was no less important, valued, or meaningful because of the way you ended your years. If anything, your battle with M.S. exemplified the depth of sacrifice and power in what it means to be a woman.

I love being a woman because of you.

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You battled the illness valiantly and I swore that I would never forget the woman who taught me to feed the ducks, pursue kindness, and be myself. I would cast a wide net with my memories, holding them together like gold, honoring all of the ways in which you touched my life.

Now, if I close my eyes, I see you.

But –

More than that, I feel you. In my bones, in my soul, there is still you, cheering me on.

I read a quote the other day in a book that reminded me of you. It reminded me of how you lived out your life, boldly embracing exactly the woman you came to be – even after deep pain in your life.

“Growing up is an unbecoming. My healing has been a peeling away of costume after costume until here I am, still and naked and unashamed before God, stripped down to my real identity. I have unbecome. And now I stand: warrior.” – Glennon Doyle Melton, “Love Warrior

As the words came off the pages, I smiled. Tears poured out of me, without enough time to even attempt to stop them.

I vividly recall the authentic way you presented yourself to the world. I am your granddaughter, and so perhaps my perspective was flawed, but I knew then, as I know now, that your authenticity was genuine and powerful. It’s taken all of my 27 years and just now I feel I am beginning to tear away at the presentation of myself to the world and disclosing the real me inside.

Perhaps I’ve grown up, but you know her, the me that has always been.

You shaped her.

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It’s been five years since you passed away and each year I reflect on you and your life, desperate to hold the roll of memories that play over and over again, like an old movie on a projector screen.

On the day of your death, I was sitting by kerosene lamp in my host family’s home in Rwanda. Dad called and gently told me, “she’s gone.”

From a small East African village, flashes of you at soccer games, birthdays, and Christmas filled my brain like a water-hose that could not be turned off. Strolls in downtown Denver, road-trips to Chicago, mountain summits, stories on trains…

I said very little to Mama and Papa. As their hands rubbed my back, I sobbed. I mourned. In that little green house, I grieved the loss of my warrior. What I’ve learned since then, in these five years, is that your presence has been unyielding.

You inspired Lance in his rock bottom.

You comforted me in deep heartache.

You remained steadfast proof of what love actually is. What it requires of us. And what it calls us to.

To love is to know.

And, you knew me deeply, even as a young girl. I think you would be proud, today.

I also think you would challenge me to commit to being a warrior, a bulldog, a whatever, never compromising my value as a human-being. I think you would love me for exactly who I am, and so, when it’s scary to be honest about myself, your comfort propels me forward.

Lance has a daughter now – with your name. She smiles, and smiles, and smiles. Her sassiness, sweetness, and amiability remind me, once again, that you are here.

I love you, and I miss you every day.

Always,

Heather

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Queen of Katwe

A not-so-secret secret: I’m a total sucker for biographical sports dramas. Especially when they showcase the triumph of an underdog.

Case and point? During my senior season of field hockey at Hendrix, each player on the team wrote an inspirational quote of their choosing on a large piece of tape. Then, almost ceremoniously, each of us shared our selected pieces of wisdom and pasted the piece of tape on the flat-side of our sticks. We did this so that in moments requiring rugged grittiness – like in the last quarter of the game, in overtime, or in the final sprint for a goal – would have some kind of tangible marker for inspiration.

With little hesitation, I used a quote from Coach Bill Yoast in Remember the Titans: Leave no doubt!”

Remember the Titans – and films like it – are my jam.

So, earlier this summer, when I first saw the trailer for Queen of Katwe, to no surprise, I immediately put the release date in my google calendar. Lupita Nyong’o? Chess? Uganda? I’m so there.

With salted popcorn in hand, I saw Queen of Katwe on Monday and it was hardly what I expected it to be. Certainly, the story-line included soft spots about the rise of Phiona Mutesi’s chess game, queuing all the inspirational music and all the cheers. Throughout the story, chess is used as a larger metaphor for life. One of the Phion’as team members, when teaching Phiona how to play, says, “…in chess, the small one can become the big one.”

However, unlike a lot of Disney (or sports) films, the deepening of the story wasn’t hinged upon the sport and the victor’s success.

In actuality, the film showcased Phiona – a rising Chess champion from a poor community, Katwe, in Uganda – and the plethora of moving parts in her life. True to many communities in East Africa, the life of an individual is never just their own. Phiona’s success became her communities’ success, too. On the flip-side, her and her families’ struggles, at times, seemed insurmountable.

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I ached for the determination of Phiona’s mother, Harriet, as she struggled to find any kind of income for the family. When Phiona’s brother is in an accident, the family is soon after forced into eviction from their home. Scenes show the family walking the roads, homeless, and it’s impossible to ignore the injustices that people face every, single day. As Phiona’s story unfolds and she begins to attend chess sessions, Phiona’s sister leaves her family so that she can pursue a relationship with a man that will take care of her – until she gets pregnant. The particular challenges of being a woman, too, come to light, and it’s hard to process and fully capture in the allotted time.

Frankly, for the duration of the 2-hour show, I was a mess. Dabbing my eyes with a handful of tissues, I hadn’t quite expected the emotional, visceral reaction I had.

You see, by writing and producing a movie that focused not only a sports champion, but the tensions of their background, home life, and family, larger issues like poverty, racism, and opportunity come to the fore-front. That’s a really, really important thing to be done.

There are poignant moments, like when Phiona’s mom, Harriet, slowly acquiesces to the idea that her daughter has a chance for success. To show her support, she sells valuable fabric that she kept from her own mother so her daughter can purchase petrol for reading chess books with light when night arrives.

Another riveting scene occurs when a notorious East African rain storm devastates Phiona’s home. They have no roof and water rushes in, pulling the soil, dirt, and their belongings together like an after-thought.

The director of the film, Mira Nair, is an Indian-American woman (living part-time in Uganda) who decided to adapt the film after making a documentary about Robert Katende, Phiona’s chess coach and sports director for a local ministry. I found her portrayal of Katwe intriguing because it was neither denigrating nor romantic. Refreshing, considering Africa-focused media tends to err on one side or the other.

Sure, sports movies present some kind of climatic issue, but typically, it’s resolvable. In Queen of Katwe, though, the issues raised are pressing issues of justice. They don’t have easy answers, and yet, it’s incredibly important to consider, think about, and move to discussion and action by them.

I thought of my girls in Rwanda, who struggle frequently with the notion of where to be.

Robert Katende: [to Phiona] Sometimes the place you are used to is not the place you belong. You belong where you believe you belong. Where is that for you?

Should the girls pursue their academics with all their rigor, hoping to find a way to university? Or, do they return home to take care of their family?

Sometimes, these are the kinds of choices that are mutually exclusive, even when they shouldn’t be.

Brokenness isn’t just over there, though. Injustice has a lot of different faces. We can’t assume that viewing injustice (say, extreme poverty, for example) in Queen of Katwe is non-existent in our “world.”

Our “world” might instead be wracked with income inequity, systemic racism, or limitations on civic freedoms.It might be a wrong-doing from a neighbor. A difficulty in your family.

What I liked best about Queen of Katwe was its unapologetic look at the complications of families, success, mobility, and hope.

Additionally, it re-calibrated my heart, back again to what is important in life. I think we all need a steady reminder of this from time to time.

Check out the movie, when you can. You won’t be disappointed.

teeth-cleaning, life-giving, kind-of conversations.

Naturally, I was late for my bi-annual dentist appointment. Wrongly assuming I was some sort of a traffic god, I gave myself three minutes for a 15-minute drive. Slightly frazzled, I walked through doors that I have walked through since I was a little girl.

Dr. Long has been my dentist – well, forever.He’s a good one but it’s kind of always like this:

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He gave me a retainer, helped me get my braces in tip-top shape, fixed a chipped tooth, and most times, cleaned my altogether decent teeth.

Escorted back by the hygienist, the tension was palpable due to my late arrival.

To mitigate this, I quickly commented, “I’m really sorry for being late.”

Nothing. Except for the whining of the ultrasonic cleaning instruments that dentists frequently use. What a pleasant background noise.

Great. Now the woman about to clean my teeth with a razor sharp tartar scraper is less than enthused because of my tardiness. Less than ideal.I really, I mean really, need to work on being on time to things.

Delicately but without much sympathy, she put the bib around my neck so that the spit, toothpaste, and general dentistry-grossness didn’t get all over my shirt.

She was still silent.

Quick! Say something! I couldn’t think of anything.

She nudged first, “So, how has your summer been?”

I paused. Answer with grace. Grace, kindness, grace, enthusiasm, and still more grace.

“Well, first of all, I can’t believe we are nearing the end. It’s kind of crazy. I’ve been working and doing some trips around the country. Trying to have as many outdoor adventures as I can. It’s been a good summer. What about you?”

She told me about her big move into a suburban community from her previous home of 16 years on a southeastern Colorado farm.

We bonded over the mutual experience of boxes and settling into a new neighborhood. She softened, and told me about her upcoming anniversary – her wedding one – honoring 15 years of marriage.

I’m always about asking the deeper, thicker, molasses-heavy kind of questions, so I posed, “Did you change a lot in those years? With your spouse, I mean?”

“Of course I did. You – we – always will. I got married late. 36. I had resigned to the idea that I had been blessed with the gift of singleness. Just when I gave it up, like a boomerang, it came back to me.”

“I guess you never know, right?”

“Exactly. That’s exactly it. I kind of think that the right thing will always happen. We just have to be willing to loosen our grip and you know. Let it go, I guess.”

With crumbs of plaque resting idly between the crevices of my teeth, I moved my tongue to ask the next question that had popped into my mind –

“Are you a Christian?”

Her eyebrows pointed downwards quickly in a bit of shock, disbelief, and uncertainty. Mostly, suspicion. What business did I – a patient – have asking in the middle of a cleaning appointment?

I asked because her spirit, sentiment, and largely, her vocabulary choice ruminated and dabbled slightly in Christianese you often hear in the church. The “gift of singleness” is an idea or phrase I’ve only heard in that context and so, frankly, I just had to ask. As usual, my curiosity got the best of me.

She laughed hesitantly and looked at me like I was no more than 10 years of age.

“Aww, you’re cute.”

Wait! No! I’m not about to whip out the bridge to Jesus or some device or tool to convert you to a particular brand of faith! Literally, she just struck me as someone who was probably deeply spiritual.

“So – let me tell you first. I don’t like that question – “

I interrupted her.

“It’s the wrong question. I don’t ask that of you because you have to fit in that label, necessarily, I ask because you seem like you know God. From the way you are talking. I should ask, something like, do you know God?

“I’m a seeker. I’ve been seeking my entire life. I go to church, I take part in bible studies, and I desperately want to know God. But, Christianity carries a lot of meaning that I’m not sure I can also carry that word with me. It’s full of hate, honestly, and that really scares me.”

Totally fair. And, she didn’t have to explain all of that, but she did. And honestly, I understood exactly what she meant. I got it.

“I struggle all the time. There’s “Christians” who live lives full of malice, judgment, and narrow-minded ideologies. There’s also “non-Christians” who are revolutionizing communities for positive movements. What I’m trying to say, I think, is that it’s essential to love what God loves. Faith is an active part of life. It’s more than what you label yourself. It’s how you are living.”

“Yes! That’s it!”

She softly, much more openly, laughed again and mumbled that I was “adorable.”

“How old are you again – 27?”

“Yes.”

“Oh for heavens sake! You are a baby. Just a baby. Are you dating anyone?”

“No, not right now.”

“Well, no rush. Like I said, it all happens for a reason. Don’t give up.”

I gargled, spit, and smiled. My front row of teeth were now sparkly clean – glowing from the removed coffee stains of the past year.

The best advice I have read is that everyone is our teacher. Thus, if everyone is our teacher, then certainly, that should (and can, and will) include dental hygienists.

My teeth are smoother, cleaner, and my love for authenticity in in the world is a little higher, too.

Own what you are. Share it. Listen to others. Even from a dentists’ chair.

I love living a life of faith because it presents an opportunity to reclaim the identities placed upon us. I’m a Christian. And I’m so, so ridiculously imperfect as a human. But, I also choose to believe God loves me exactly for who I am. He created me, after all. If you start believing this – really, fully, in your bones believing – than it becomes less scary to function in this world.

My authenticity was made good on a cross. Label or not – that cannot be taken.

Perhaps we can consider what it would look like to reclaim this word “Christianity” – so that instead of being seen for the hatred played out in the world, people would instead find a faith rooted and made right in love.

That’s what I think about when I sit in a dentist office. That’s why life is so cool.

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