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Why stroll when you can ROLL?

WALTER JOHNSON: In-line skating guru puts fitness on wheels


September 3, 2002


BY PATRICIA ANSTETT

FREE PRESS MEDICAL WRITER


The Free Press, in a three-part series, is focusing on Michiganders who epitomize good physical and mental well-being. Today's stories focus on three physically fit people who are role models to others in their jobs and volunteer work.


WALTER JOHNSON


AGE: 59


HOME: Highland Park. He's pulled up the carpets so "I can have a skate-friendly house. I can skate throughout the house."


CHILDHOOD: Born in the Bronx, N.Y., and raised in Cleveland, he's one of two children raised by a single mother, a seamstress, now 92. He ran track in high school.


"I couldn't ask for a better childhood," he says. "I had the freedom to play. I went to school, came home, maybe had a few chores like cutting the grass, raking the leaves or washing dishes, but other than that we played, 12 months a year."


He ran, biked, sledded, played baseball, basketball and other sports. He skated a little but didn't consider himself very good. He regrets that children today don't play enough outdoors.


FAMILY HEALTH HISTORY: Father died at 35 of pneumonia.


MARITAL STATUS: Divorced.


CHILDREN: A son, 36.


EDUCATION: Graduated from high school in Cleveland and went into the Air Force for four years.


EMPLOYMENT: IRS computer specialist.


PERSONAL HEALTH HISTORY: Johnson, 6 feet tall, weighs 168 pounds and leads a healthy life filled with daily exercise, mostly in-line skating.



Twenty-five years ago, he weighed 230 pounds, drank beer regularly. "One day I was looking at myself in the mirror and it just didn't make sense at all. I didn't like how I looked.  I couldn't stand it anymore. The first thing I did was to stop drinking beer. I didn't drink any for almost a year."


He started running and then cycling, which he loved. "It just got better and better. I rode everywhere. I loved how exhilarating it made me feel." For about 10 years, he cycled 8 miles to work daily from Melvindale to his job in downtown Detroit at the IRS.


He got leaner and fitter and "got addicted to exercise. I've been fortunate that I found two things I really loved, bicycling and, now,skating."


These days, he lists his health problems as arthritic knees, which he helps protect with stretches and deep-knee bends.


EXERCISE HABITS: About 10 years ago, when he was at a bar, a group of in-line skaters came in and told him about an upcoming meeting.


Soon he was "tooling around town" four nights a week with in-line skaters, 150 or more at a time. "We'd go to Hamtramck, Grosse Pointe and the west side. There are a lot of bars and restaurants that take us in, still do."


Early on, before he learned to stop or turn on skates, he crashed into a brick wall. "The only reason I can tell the story is because I had a helmet on. And every day since I've had a helmet on."


He took skating lessons from a pro and went on to become a certified Level II instructor, with master's certification in speed-skating, from the International Inline Skating Association, the governing body of in-line skating. He competes in in-line skate-racing events around the country. Recently he placed second in a 20K Canadian event.


"I've been all over the country. I skate everywhere," he says. "I like to skate. It's the most fun you can have standing up."


Johnson is the president of Motor City Blade Runners, a Detroit roller-blading club, which coordinates weekly skates around metro Detroit. In 1997, he started the Detroit Blading Co., a skating instruction company. It also provides equipment for the classes Johnson offers at Eastern Market or through Detroit church and community group programs. (For details, call 313-378-3880 or click here).


SMOKING: No.


DRINKING: Drinks one or two beers a day, twice a week, then may go weeks

without one.


EATING HABITS: He stopped eating meat 18 years ago as part of a 38-day fast for a Dick Gregory protest. He drinks lots of water and eats small snacks of fruit or vegetables several times a day. He has one main meal  between noon and 2, which he shares with his girlfriend when she is there. The meals consist mostly of seafood, pasta, vegetables or fruits.


PASSION FOOD: Ice cream, potato chips and candy bars, particularly Almond Joy. "I'll get a pack of three and wipe them out. And then I won't eat one for months."


MEDICINES AND SUPPLEMENTS: Takes vitamins C and E; doesn't keep aspirin

in his house.


PERSONAL CHARACTERISTICS: Detroit's recognize him as the guy in skates with the gray dreadlocks and a helmet. He still wears a 20-year-old belt, from his heavier days, to which he's had to add numerous new notches.


DISAPPOINTMENTS: "The life of a skater is about two years. Then they put the skates down and don't use them again. I'm trying to figure this out.This thing is killing me. Where are all the skaters going? Those who stick and stay, we have a core group of about 10 skaters. They skate

every day."


MOTIVATION: "I'm in the fun business. What I sell is fun."


He wants to promote in-line skating as a lifelong activity.


He wears a shirt that says, "Life is Good”.





© Classic Calligraphy 2012

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