Tampa speed skater works to grow sport where he learned it, in his native Cuba

Speed skaters from the United States travel to Cuba each year with Jose Bordas of Tampa to race and distribute skating equipment throughout the island nation. Local skaters in Havana posed for a photo with them after an event in November. [Courtesy of Jose Bordas]
Speed skaters from the United States travel to Cuba each year with Jose Bordas of Tampa to race and distribute skating equipment throughout the island nation. Local skaters in Havana posed for a photo with them after an event in November. [Courtesy of Jose Bordas]
Published December 10 2017
Updated December 25 2017

Jose Bordas began his inline speed skating career riding plastic green roller skates with wheels ground down to bearings in his native city of Cienfuegos, Cuba. Bordas was 8.

"I was scratching the track," Bordas said, and not really impressing the coach. "It was embarrassing."

But when Bordas’ aunt in the United States heard of her nephew’s desire to become an inline skater, she sent him a pair of new skates.

He went on to become a repeat national inline speed skating champion in Cuba and later moved to the United States, where he splits his time between Tampa and Miami and competes for Team USA Inline Speed Skating.

Now, he is supporting other skaters in Cuba who are struggling as he once did.

For the past two Novembers, Bordas has led travel groups distributing skating equipment throughout the island nation.

A third trip is confirmed for next November, with details at visit skateacrosscuba.com, but he hopes to garner enough interest for at least another two excursions in 2018.

Participants skate around the cities they tour, Cienfuegos, Varadero and Havana, interact with Cuba’s national team and take part in skating clinics.

Travellers must pack at least 20 pounds of new and used skating gear in their luggage, gathered by Bordas and his partners for distribution across Cuba.

"I was lucky to have family in the United States but many are not lucky," Bordas said. "In Cuba there are no skate shops selling what is needed."

Bordas’ manager Frank Holland of Tampa leads the collection effort and said Cuban skaters see their benefactors as Santa Claus. Information on donating is at ussportsfunding.org.

"What we think is junk is gold to them," said Holland, who estimates the effort has brought 1,000 pounds of gear to Cuba, such as skates, helmets wheels and laces.

"I’m always amazed at Cuba’s passion for skating, even though they have limited access to equipment."

Bordas’ interest in the sport was piqued by the 1993 Hollywood comedy Airborne, about a teenage surfer who moves from California to Cincinnati and befriends inline skaters.

As a child living in a humble household, Bordas asked Santa for inline skates and received that pair of cheap plastic green skates that seemed to him like gear the pros wore.

"The wheels lasted three days before I hit the bearings," Bordas said with a chuckle.

Months later he tried out for a competitive team using the same skates.

Even after he won national titles, he felt held back because Cuba did not send a team to the World Roller Speed Skating Championships. He’s not sure why, whether the decision was political or financial.

"I want to challenge the best," he said. "That’s what I know."

After Bordas turned 18, he and his parents moved to Miami and two years ago he earned a spot on Team USA.

In the 2017 world skating games in China, he placed 11th in the 100-meter sprint in a race so tight he missed first place by just three-tenths of a second.

"I was very happy with my performance," he said.

Bordas said his former Cuban teammates also are happy for him.

"They are excited one of us was able to get to the worlds."

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

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