Inline skating helps fitness instructor find outlet for competitive side

Staff writerJune 15, 2014 

In 2012, Kacie Cleveland became the first woman to skate across America. Inline skating allowed her to remain a competitive athlete after a running injury in college.


On the goal wall at Kulshan CrossFit in Bellingham, eight people have scrawled the same aspiration: Inline skate 30 miles.

“I like to ask all my clients to write down something they’re scared to do, and then I encourage them to do it,” said Kacie Cleveland who owns the gym with her husband, Adam.

Odds are inline skating goals won’t be found on the walls of most CrossFit gyms, but maybe they should be, Cleveland said. She says it’s an excellent low-impact form of exercise.

And while it’s not actually part of the workouts at her gym, her love for the sport clearly rubs off on her clients.

In addition to CrossFit, running, competitive stair running and dabbling in other sports, Cleveland, 29, is a Rollerblade-sponsored athlete.

In 2012, Cleveland became the first woman to skate across America. She needed just 47 days to go from San Diego to Jacksonville, Florida. She shattered the previous record of 69 days, set by Russell Moncrief in 2002.

Cleveland grew up in Bellingham skating and playing other sports before heading to California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo to participate in track.

She loved running and still does. But in college she developed compartment syndrome, a painful condition in which a muscle’s fascial sheath doesn’t have enough room.

Her college running career was over. While some athletes have successfully continued their athletic careers after surgery, Cleveland decided that wasn’t an option for her.

“I’m more on the natural side of things,” she said. “The less I have to cut up my muscles the better.”

The operation doesn’t always work, and even if it did, it could mean as much as a year without serious exercise, Cleveland said. She couldn’t stomach the idea.

So instead, Cleveland looked for other endurance sports to challenge her body and her mind. She swam, and she skated.

“Having running taken away was a big blow for me,” Cleveland said.

Skating helped Cleveland reclaim her relationship with running.

She learned that if she ran just once a week, she felt OK. That’s hardly enough for a serious runner, but at least it was something.

Instead of focusing on what she couldn’t do, Cleveland focused on what she could.

“So I don’t train like a runner,” Cleveland said. “I go out and I compete, but I only run one day per week. And I really make that one day count.”

While that’s as much of a pounding as her legs can handle, they have no problem with the gliding motion when she’s on her Rollerblades.

“I can go forever,” she said.

She regularly drives to Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. There, on long stretches of paved trails, she can be seen ripping along, sometimes even passing cyclists.

For her, this translates into perfect training for her lone running day. She’s used that running day to notch more than a dozen half marathons, qualify for the Boston Marathon and set a world tower running record.

In tower running, racers dash up the stairwells of large buildings then descend via the elevator. In 2013, she and three teammates set a record by climbing 76,440 feet (the equivalent of 5.3 Mount Rainiers) of stairs in 24 hours.

She believes many athletes could benefit from adding inline skating to their workout regimens.

“It’s low impact and strengthens your legs and core,” Cleveland said.

Cleveland has few tips for getting started:

• “Like everything else, don’t do too much, too soon, Cleveland said. “Your body needs time to get used to the activity.”

• While a new pair of inline skates can cost $100 or much more, you might want to test the sport before you commit.

“The great thing is, everybody has a pair of old skates in their garage,” Cleveland said. “Get some new bearings for those old skates and give it a try. If you love it, then get a pair of new skates. You’ll definitely notice the difference.”

• Practice in an open place, like a paved trail. Confined places are tough, she says, even for her. And don’t be embarrassed if you fall.

The fear of falling, Cleveland says, is what keeps many from trying the sport.

“But a lot of that is mental,” said Cleveland, who says falling isn’t really that common.

Plus, as she likes to preach in her CrossFit gym, doing things that scare you a little makes you stronger.

She lives by that idea. Cleveland dreams of running a 100-mile race. And it scares her because it’s a goal that could finally force her to have that compartment syndrome surgery.

But until then, she’ll keep skating.

Next month she’s doing the 200-mile Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic on her skates.

“It takes a lot of mental strength to get up on day 2 and do another 100 miles,” Cleveland said. “But I like challenging myself like that.”

Craig Hill: 253-597-8497

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