It had been 45 years since Chuck Geiger laced up a pair of skates and hit the floor rolling. In the old days, speed was the game for the kid who skated competitively in Philadelphia.
After retiring and moving to Clearwater, Geiger had some time on his hands. The passing years and a long career banging out dents in the auto body shop he owned had taken a toll. Even so, he wanted to keep active.
After watching his contemporaries skate at a local rink — some competitively — Geiger put roller skating at the top of his bucket list.
"I was amazed at the elderly people in costumes. After the first day of watching them I was hooked," he said. "I saw it as an alternative to just walking on the beach."
He also had a goal — to skate competitively once again before his 80th birthday.
At first, Geiger took baby steps on the smaller practice floor, spending a few weeks getting reacquainted with the feel of wheels and, sometimes, the feel of his backside on the hard wood.
"I took my lumps," Geiger said. "But I got through that."
A few years have passed and Geiger is at the top of his game. His strides are smooth as he glides across the rink, sometimes under the watchful eye of his coach, Rhoda Balay, during twice weekly practice sessions at SpinNations in Port Richey. He makes his own costumes, too — sleek, black pocketless pants and fitted, sequined jackets.
"You gotta have the glitz," Geiger says with a smile.
Geiger, now 82, will be among 165 skaters from seven states vying for the opportunity to skate at nationals as he competes in the 65-and-older compulsory category at the 2014 Southern Regional Figure Roller Skating Championships held this weekend at SpinNations in Port Richey. This event is the qualifier for the U.S. Championships this summer in Lincoln, Nebraska.
If Geiger makes it to the podium this time around, it will be his third trip to nationals.
This the 11th year SpinNations is playing host for the Southern Regional Championships for skaters of various levels — from tiny tots to seniors, novices to world-class skaters. The event, sponsored by the Pasco County Tourist Development Council, will feature solo dance and team dance, Junior and Senior World Class free skating and Dance Compulsory as well as the "Junior Precision Team" representing the Super Wheels Club from Miami, and the "Senior Precision Team" from the Skating School of Central Florida in Casselberry.
Melissa Cropley, 32, who placed at world championships five times, now coaches a few world championship skaters along with a bevy of students who skate on various levels. One couples team, Siobhan Boismier, 34, and Chris Gori, 27, have partnered for the first time this season in the Senior World Class Team Dance division, and will compete at regionals along with 15 of Cropley's students.
"It takes a lot of hours of practice to prepare for this," Cropley said. "All of them have placed on lower level (competitions) before getting here, whether they are beginners or world-class skaters."
As for Geiger, he's not ready to be done with that first item on the top of his bucket list.
"After working hard all those years, you want to do something," he said. "And I'm having fun."
Michele Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.