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Prose and Kohn

Inline skaters keep the wheels turning at Nathan Benderson Park.

A national event in Sarasota brought interest to a sport that has faded in interest since the 1990s.

Jose Mateo and Eva Martin hold hands as they prepare to cross the finish line of the Florida Inline Skating Marathon.
Jose Mateo and Eva Martin hold hands as they prepare to cross the finish line of the Florida Inline Skating Marathon.
Photo by Ryan Kohn
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How did you spend your 14th birthday?

I don't remember mine exactly — 14 is not a landmark age — but I can put together a decent guess. As a kid, I usually asked to spend my birthdays at a sporting event with some friends and family, often a Baltimore Orioles game.

Then we'd get dinner at a Japanese steakhouse. If my birthday fell during the week, then maybe we'd skip the O's game, but I'd still spend it relaxing with friends or playing video games. 

What I would never do is ask to spend the day exerting myself in the hot sun. That sounds like the opposite of fun. 

Skyler Dacus, 14, started training for the Florida Inline Skating Marathon six months ago.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

Skyler Dacus is apparently not built the same. Dacus began inline skating six months ago after watching YouTube videos of races.

The appeal of skating? Skyler wanted to be fast on his feet, he said — but he didn't want to run.

Skating checked both boxes. His father, 51-year-old Tyler Dacus, liked the idea of his son challenging himself to learn a new skill, so not only did he help Skyler train, but he picked up the hobby himself. It was the first time Tyler had been on skates since he was a teenager himself.

Some might wonder if anyone is on inline skates anymore. Inline skating was considered the fastest growing sport in America in the 1990s. By the end of that decade, more than 20 million people were inline skating. By 2017, according to research by Sports History Weekly, that number had dropped to 5 million.

However, perhaps the fad is not dead, yet.

The Florida Inline Skating Marathon’s Inaugural event was launched by founder Mike Mason in 2021. Since then, the event has become the largest skate race in Florida and the second largest in the U.S.

This year's event was held Oct. 29 at Nathan Benderson Park, and besides the marathon distance of 26.2 miles, the event offered a half marathon, a 10K, and a 5K.

Skyler and Tyler Dacus elected to compete in the full marathon and spent the last six months training.

The Dacus family — Tyler and Skyler, plus mother Ruilin and family dog Ollie, a 3-year-old pug — drove to East County from their home in Jacksonville for the event. 

"We have been practicing at a local rink every night for three to four hours, to get a feel for endurance skating," Tyler Dacus said. "To do this when you're turning 14 and trying to find your own path in life, that's best part of this to me. I think that's cool." 

At the starting line, Tyler made sure to let everyone know it was Skyler's birthday, clearly taking glee in being a prototypical "embarrassing dad." When Skyler passed his mom, Ruilin made sure to shout similar sentiments while filming him with her phone, ensuring the family would remember the day forever. 

Tyler finished the marathon in 2:12.09, which was 83rd place, while Skyler finished in 2:33.00 for 111th place. Skyler felt it was a good showing for his first marathon and he expressed pride in his performance. 

"I didn't know if I would be able to finish it," Skyler Dacus said. "It got a lot harder in the last three (laps). Everything before that was about conserving energy. It was a challenge. But now that I've done it, I think I can do it even faster." 

The Dacus family was not the only group having a good time at the skating marathon. All along Cattleman Road, people cheered for the competitors, many they never had met. The vast majority of competitors were not local to the area, coming here specifically for the race.

That does not mean they forgot to have fun. Some competitors competed in full-body athletic suits. Others competed in ballerina tutus. A handful of skaters wore Go-Pro cameras or held selfie sticks to film themselves competing. 

Eva Martin and Jose Mateo came to the race from Spain with a group of skaters. They're not a couple, just good friends, according to Mateo, but when they skated uphill on Cattleman Road toward the finish line, the two athletes — dressed in matching red and black uniforms — skated in tandem, with Martin grabbing onto Mateo's arms from behind. They matched each other's pace and form as if they were synchronized swimmers. When the uphill section turned back into flat ground, the two skaters unlinked, skating side by side. As they crossed the finish line, they held hands and raised them above their heads. 

The race was Mateo's first time in the United States. Martin had previously been to New York, but never to Florida. Both skaters sung the praises of the area and of Benderson Park. I assumed the skaters would have lots to say about their love of inline skating, but when asked about it, Mateo laughed. For him, the sport itself is not where he derives pleasure.

"It is about the friendships," Mateo said, looking over at Martin. 

After crossing the finish line, Mateo and Martin hugged each other as well as the other members of their group. Watching them race, it became clear to me what so many competitors see in inline skating. It is whatever you want it to be.

It can be a way to deepen the bonds between friends, like it is for Mateo and Martin. It can be a vessel for a parent to teach a child about goal-setting and overcoming challenges, as it is for the Dacus family. It can be a form of self-expression, like it is for the people who skate wearing punk rock helmets studded with spikes. 

The sport might never again be as popular as it was in the 1990s, but I'm glad races like this one still exist, so the people who need the sport can find it. 



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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