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Categorized | IN OUR COMMUNITY

At 65, one St. Paul woman is still winning roller skating gold

Posted on 09 July 2018 by Calvin

By STEPHANIE FOX
Benita Warns wasn’t involved in organized sports when she was young. She had already graduated high school when Title IX became law. Title IX was one of the Educational Amendments passed by Congress in 1972, prohibiting discrimination of girls and women in federally funded education. Title IX opened up opportunities girls never had, Warn’s school, like most public schools, had no sports for girls.

“The thinking is that a girl would hurt herself and then wouldn’t be able to have babies,” said Warns. “But, I rode bikes just the way the boys did. I didn’t get to a roller rink until I was 12-years old and in junior high. I loved the rink and skated often during my junior and senior years of high school. I gradually learned to skate reasonably well, but never considered racing.”

But, her early skating experience at the rink had made a lasting impression, and now, Warns is the winner of a number of gold, silver and bronze medals, winning regional and national events in speed skating. She has so many that, she says, she’s lost track of them. But she says, she’s won 15 national gold medals. Her latest was the Quad Skates US Roller Speed Skating Associations American Championship for women aged 60 and older, which she won at a meet in mid-June.

Photo right: In mid-June, Benita Warns won the Gold Medal in the Quad Skates US Roller Speed Skating Associations American Championship for women aged 60 and older. (Photo by Stephanie Fox)

The road to the championship took years, but Warns thrives on the competition. “When I first started racing, I dreamed of placing at regionals and qualifying for the nationals. Once I reached that goal, I dreamed of making it to a final at nationals,” she said. She won a medal there and set her sights on winning gold. She won her first gold in 2009. Now age 65, she has no plans to slow down.

Warns grew up in Detroit, attended Wayne State and planned for a career in teaching. But, she left school before graduating. “The teaching field was glutted,” she said. Instead, she joined the Army, studying journalism and broadcasting at the US Department of Defense’s information school, graduating 2nd in her class in journalism and 1st in broadcasting. After leaving the army and settling in Indianapolis, she used her Vet’s benefits to attend Purdue to become an industrial engineer.

When her son Dylan was four years old, she started to take him to skating sessions for preschool and kindergarten kids. “And then, I heard about another nearby rink offered a free six-week series of speed skating classes for kids and adults, so we went together,” she said. “At the end of the classes, we drove to a rink to watch a speed meet.”

Soon, they were doing more than watching. Both Benita and Dylan found that they had a talent for speed. It took years of practice to qualify for the National Championships, she said. She had been competing in state-level races in the 30 and older division, and in 1994, now living in St. Paul and working at an engineering job at the US Post Office, she left competitive skating far behind her. “I was out of skating for nine years, until 2003,” she said, but she was still a roller racing fan.

“During the years I was out of skating, inline skates took over racing,” she said. But, there was still a place for quad skating, Warn’s favored method, using the traditional skating rink style skates, with four wheels set in two side-by-side pairs.
Inlines are flashier, faster and are harder on skaters’ knees, she said, but there were still quad races around, with a winter meet being held in nearby Wisconsin. She went to check it out. And then, she said, “An old skating friend called me and asked if I would skate quad nationals for his team.” She said yes and began training again.

Now, 15 years later, Warns competes with groups from around the country. There are no local teams, making training a challenge, but it allows her to skate in competition with teams all over the country, as a free agent.

She competes in the 300, 500 and 700-meter races, where skaters race against each other in packs, and in the 2000-meter relays. But to practice with others and to recreate the experience closer to a real race, Warns, a grandmother signed on with the local roller derby team, the Minnesota RollerGirls, as a referee, taking on the roller derby nickname “Batterin’ Gram.”

“I would skate 10-minute drills with them,” Warns said. “It gave me confidence. It got me used to being bumped, so it made me steadier in races.” She worked with the team for four years before retiring, although she still works charity and promotional events for the RollerGirls.

Roller skating, she says keeps her healthy. “I get bone strength and balance. It’s not joint pounding the way running is, but I get endurance and strength.”

Warn’s sport is changing, too. When she started, the oldest competition category was 30 and older. “Then, they change it to 35 and older, and then 45 and older and eventually they created divisions for folks in the 50s and 60s.” Her next big competition is the USA Roller Sports Nationals in Lincoln, Nebraska later this month.

“You can still tell the effect of Title IX,” she said. “There are a lot more women in racing who were in school after Title IX than before it was put into effect. There’s a really strong line.”

For Warns, the skating future is bright. “I’m not planning on hanging up my skates anytime soon. I figure I have a few good racing years left and then, maybe I will retire from racing. But, who knows. Maybe, someday, they will add a 70 and older division. I am not getting faster, but I have developed a much better form than in my younger days.”

Her focus is now on more than just racing and winning. “I have to train to live well. It’s not just about being a champion. It’s about being strong. Too many people have health problems for lack of taking care of themselves. I don’t want that for me. I want to go to the roller rink at age 100 and skate unassisted.”