At 76 years young, Culver resident readies for national skating competition
The fact that Herb Kilber of Culver is participating in the USA Roller Sports National Indoor Speed Championships in Fort Wayne later this month is noteworthy. The fact that he’s 76 years old is all the more unusual.
Kibler, who says he got his start skating “on the flip of a coin” when a friend of his had met a girl while roller skating and wanted to go one evening when Kibler was 13, hopes people around the region take an interest in the sport regardless of his involvement. He notes the Championships take place across the country, so having a chance to see them as close to home as Fort Wayne -- where as many as 6,000 skaters are expected to converge -- is a rare treat.
Though the earliest use of roller skates goes back to the 1700s, the activity enjoyed great popularity in America in the 20th century, when even a small community like Culver boasted a roller rink (located on West Jefferson Street in the building today occupied by Culver Communications).
“Skating was very, very popular before TV, video games, and automobiles,” Kibler notes. “When I first started skating in Plymouth, it was nothing to have 200 people on a Friday or Saturday, or even Wednesday.”
He says the recession of the 1970s took participation down, though roller skating remained a popular weekend sport.
“It’s still the cheapest babysitter,” he adds, “and it’s active.”
Kibler’s own involvement for many years was strictly recreational. He found himself teaching skating at the various places he was stationed during his time in the Armed Services. He’s been a certified coach for over 20 years, though he began skating competitively in 1996. He taught for some time at the rink in Plymouth, though in 1998 he began skating out of a rink in Linwood, Illinois, where he said the coach is “one of the best in the nation.”
There are nine regions nationally in the USA Roller Sports program, including the five-state Great Lakes region of which Indiana is a part. In his age category, Kibler expects to compete against 23 skaters in Fort Wayne. He notes skaters’ ages range vastly, from elementary-age children to a 79-year-old in Kibler’s 65-plus category. He says participation at his own age is “no common -- it’s a little more exceptional....I’m proud of it.”
Participants in Nationals have already qualified at the regional level, and it’s possible to go onto a worldwide competition.
Kibler hopes people make the trek to Fort Wayne to see what roller skating competition is all about.
“It’s not just going around in circles,” he’s quick to point out, refuting a common misconception which grows from many people’s experiences skating recreationally at rinks. “There are 140 dances in this book (used by USA Roller Sports for dancing competitions).”
Kibler and most competitors at the Nationals in Fort Wayne use quad skates as opposed to inline skates, which are the more recently popular roller blades.
He points out the complexity and difficulty in mastering some of the intricate turns required in competitive skating, which can be team or solo, dance or otherwise. Some roller skaters even take part in roller hockey, he adds. And while he’s quick to note he’s not denigrating ice skating, an ice blade, he explains, has just one pivot point.
“With a roller skate, you have four pivot points. There are turns we can do that ice skaters can’t... (professional) skaters won’t go from ice to roller skating; it’s too hard.”
At Fort Wayne, Kibler says, judges will hail from across the nation. The indoor speed skating championships will be held Sunday, July 17 through Saturday, July 23, followed by the figure skating championships being held from Sunday, July 24, through Sunday, August 7 at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, according to usarollersports.org.
“People will definitely be surprised at the range of skating,” says Kibler, “and the range of ages. They will be impressed by the outfits and events...I think they will enjoy themselves.”
Herb Kibler certainly seems poised to enjoy himself.
“As long as it’s fun, I plan to keep skating,” says Kibler, who moved to Culver in 1976, following his retirement. “And, as long as my wife will let me!”