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El Patinador Solitario
"The Lone Skater of Havana"

El Patinador Solitario
Jaoquin Pedro Gonzalez at his apartment in Havana, showing his handmade quad and inline skates to SkateLog editor Kathie Fry
Copyright © Kathie Fry of SkateLog.com

"The Lone Skater of Havana"

by Kathie Fry

My first trip to Cuba was in 2001, when I flew there to report on an international speed skating competition in Havana. I had become good friends with several Cuban skaters over the Internet, and when they invited me to visit Cuba to report on their competition and learn more about skating in Cuba, I welcomed the opportunity. That trip only lasted a few days, but during that time I met many of the skaters, families, and federation members who would become my very close friends in future years.

During my second trip to Cuba, in 2002, the Cuba Cup included an inline skating marathon in the streets of Havana. Most of the skaters an that event were at the pro and elite level, but quite a few of the local street skaters also participated, including a professor in his mid 60's, known as "El Piti" who skated the marathon in quad roller skates, and one of the great treasures of Cuba, 74 year old Jaoquin Pedro Gonzalez, known to everyone in Havana as "El Patinador Solitario". or sometimes "that crazy old man on skates".

"The Lone Skater of Havana"

I first met Jaoquin Pedro Gonzalez Cabrera in 2001, when the Cuban National Speed Skating Team took me on a special sightseeing tour of Havana on skates. The team members wore their national skin suits and I wore my "SkateGRRL She's Hot" T-shirt, so needless to say we attracted plenty of attention that day. Many of the local street skaters joined our fun roll, including 74 year old Jaoquin Gonzalez. I was very surprised to see a skater his age in Havana, so he caught my interest right away. After talking to Jaoquin for about 10 minutes, I knew I HAD to interview this man for an article, so my interpreter and I made arrangements to visit Jaoquin the next day at his apartment on the outskirts of Havana.

Jaoquin did not really start skating until he was about 50 years old. One afternoon he just decided to build himself a pair of roller skates that he could use for developing physical fitness and for transportation around Havana. Those skates were only attached to his shoes with leather ties, but not long after he built them, he skated all the way from Havana to Guantanamo in those handmade quad roller skates to commemorate a special memorial holiday in Cuba. While I was at his apartment, he brought out an old newspaper clipping to show me, which honored him and five other skaters for their achievement in skating such a great distance. I can't explain why, but for some reason reading that old, tattered and yellowed newspaper clipping brought a few tears to my eyes. That is something that almost never happens to me, but I was really feeling very touched by this man.

One of the most amazing things I have ever seen is the pair of inline skates Jaoquin made for himself after he saw some of the local kids wearing them in the early 1990's. He was very intrigued by those skates and he was especially interested in the inline arrangement of the wheels. He decided it would be no problem at all to build himself a pair of inline skates using sheet metal and some leather straps. I find it almost impossible to believe, but it is very true... Jaoquin skated on those handmade inline skates for many years, until finally some family members outside of Cuba sent him a pair of modern, off-the-shelf, inline skates.

On my last trip to Cuba, I brought a gift for Joaquin: a new pair of fitness inline skates and some new wrist guards, knee pads, and elbow pads. He had skated so hard in his old skates and gear he had practically worn holes through the plastic. I brought that gift because I have become very fond of Joaquin, and I want him to be able to continue skating in comfort and safety for the rest of his life.

Joaquin, if you are reading this article: You are an inspiration to me, and you are now one of my greatest role models. When I am 74 years old, I want to be skating and living my life to the fullest, every single day, just like the lone skater of Havana, "El Patinador Solitario".

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