I grew up as a rink rat, a term originally given to young kids who hung out at hockey rinks to meet the players, but the vernacular now simply refers to "a person always at the skating rink, usually a freestyle skater with mad skillz." Thank you Urban Dictionary. According to this definition, I still am a rink rat and proud of it.
I grew up on quad skates out in the Arizona dessert. My Mom had taken my sister and I out to the brand new local roller rink, Skate Country East in Tucson, and we loved it - although we could not skate worth a damn. I can't remember how old I was, but I am guessing I was around 6 or 7. My sister and I had seen the older kids skate, and skate fast, and we totally wanted to be one of those skaters. So, we practiced out back of our house, around a pink pong table, until we got it down. Both of us became fast skaters.
We spent every free hour at Skate Country, developing friends, a community, and a lifelong skill. It was a haven for us and, I am guessing, a haven for our parents. They could drop us off at the rink for several hours at a time and feel comfortable that we were safe - indeed that if anything happened to us, we would be cared for until they could come get us. We were there for afternoon skates, and evening dance skates, we did the 24 hour Jerry Skate-a-thons- raising a ton of money, and speed skating (but we were not on a team). My sister and I have nothing but the fondest memories of Skate Country and it's concrete floor (I would not skate on a wooden floor until I was in my 40s - ouch!)
We particularly appreciated the rink during my parents' divorce, since it became a second home for us where we had support from friends and adults as well. The rink and the skating community supported their own, which is why I was happy to be there after, in 7th grade, I had been attacked by three boys from my cross country team. When people had made up stories about me and treated me terribly at my school, my skate family took care of me and did not let those boys near me at the rink.
I also met my first boyfriend there - a Duncan yo-yo Champion by the name of Bruce. He could do tricks on the Yo-Yo and tricks on his quads - maybe one of the first Jam skaters around really. He even had a theme song:*
When I left Tucson, I left skating for a time. It was never the same in the Northwest and the rinks we had were far from where we lived. We lived out in North Seattle and the rinks were all in the South, and so we missed out on skating. That was until we grew up. My sister took me skating for my 40th birthday and it was a blast. It was like we had never taken our skates off. We started to take our nephew to the rink, who also loves it (it's in the McCarthy blood!). And now I am a rink rat again as I took up roller derby - spending many a free hours at the link, finding community again and a way of life. It is wonderful how what goes around, comes around.
*My husband and I have argued over this song extensively and whether "Bruce" is being sung in the lyrics. Apparently the original lyric was "grouce" (whatever the hell that is), but the audience all heard "Bruce." Eventually, the lead singer of ELO started to sing Bruce as well. So who is right? ME! LOL