90-year-old takes roller skating rink by storm
HICKORY, NC (WBTV) - Anyone who casually observes Gene Elliott sitting down and lacing up his roller skates might also have a pounding heart. Fearful of the moment when a 90-year-old man on wheels stands up.
But anyone who knows Elliott, also knows their own chances of falling down are probably greater than his.
"When I get out on the floor, I'm back in my 70s. If I've got my music, it's all I think about," Elliott says.
He laces up twice a week and takes the floor by storm at Skateland USA in Hickory. If you have any preconceived visions about what a 90-year-old looks like on roller skates, forget them.
Even in his older age, Elliott glides across the floor with grace and a fluid-like motion. His body bops and his legs bounce to the beat of whatever music is pumping through the rink's speakers.
"I don't go with the rap, but I go with all the rest of it," Elliott said, "I'm not a skater, I'm a dancer, and I've got to feel it. I'm just moving back and forth the whole time."
Elliott started skating when he was 5-years-old with a pair of roller skates he got for Christmas.
"Back in the old days they would have traveling skating rinks. Once a year they would come to our area and set up for a month or so," he said.
His love of skating continued into his teenage years. His hobby even rolled him right into the love of his life. Elliott met his wife Mary Lee at a roller skating rink.
"At first she didn't want anything to do with me. One of the girls said, 'Why don't you want to be with Gene?' And she said, 'He's a show-off,'" Elliott said.
The two were married in 1948. Skating was a staple of their marriage and their family. The couple continued to skate until Mary Lee suffered a stroke 16 years ago. The faithful husband hung up his roller skates to take care of his wife.
When she passed away, Elliott says he never thought of dusting off his roller skates, until his daughter called and asked him a favor.
"I was just hanging around the house doing nothing and my daughter called me and said, 'Dad, we're trying to raise money over here at the school and Skateland will give us a dollar for every person that we bring," Elliott said.
He showed up to the fundraiser, and every single week since.
But his skates came off again, this time was almost for good. In January of 2016, Elliott developed a very severe case of shingles. He spent ten days in the hospital, six weeks in a nursing home, and two months learning to walk again.
"A couple months later I knew I had to get back in the world and I called Donna about coming back to the rink," Elliott said.
Donna Rhodes manages Skateland, and was more than happy to welcome Elliott back out onto the floor. "I guess when you're used to seeing it, you don't really think that he's 90-years-old. When you're used to seeing him week after week after week, 90-years-old just doesn't register," Rhodes said.
Elliott is a rolling fixture for the regulars at Skateland. No one seems to be worried that he'll fall, because no one imagines that he ever will, including him.
"Least thing I think about is falling, I'm having too much fun roller skating. Get up, get off the couch and find something to do that's active. This is a good place to start right here," he said with a grin and a little boogie in his step.
Then Gene Elliott rolled away again, for another lap around his love.
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