TORONTO – Kailah Macri is used to getting puzzled looks when she tells people about the sport she’s devoted years of her life to.
“As soon as you say roller skating, people think roller derby or disco or something like that,” said Macri, a repeat national champion in her discipline.
Some go as far as to question the physical challenge involved, but the 24-year-old, who lives and trains in the Toronto area, said she just lets it roll off her back.
“It’s exactly like ice skating — so the jumps, the spins, short program, long program, same competitions, same idea — just on roller skates,” she said during a break from a recent training session.
“Some people say, ‘Oh, it’s not a real sport, like figure skating isn’t even a real sport,’ … but it’s like, it is a sport. If you try it, you know it’s a sport,” she said.
“There definitely is an athletic component to it, it’s not just all artsy and looking pretty out there.”
In a few weeks, Macri will find out if all her hard work over the recent months has paid off. She’ll compete in Calgary for a single spot to represent Canada in women’s roller figure skating at this summer’s Pan Am Games.
Whoever wins will be the country’s lone representative in that sport — no men have applied.
“In Canada, it’s not very big … we just don’t have many elite skaters right now,” she said.
Macri herself took a few years off after the last Pan Am Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, focusing instead on studying kinesiology at Toronto’s York University. But now, with graduation looming, the lure of the Games was impossible to resist, she said.
“I had so much fun last time,” she said. “I think it’s just a different experience.”
During school, Macri fit in three to four weekly skating practices and five cross-training sessions between classes, homework and a part-time job. With university behind her, that has ramped up to six skating practices a week, each up to four hours long.
On top of the usual challenges of training at an elite level, Macri has often dealt with the additional obstacles that come with choosing a less traditional sport.
Since she took up roller skating in grade school, Macri and her family have logged thousands of kilometres just to find a place where she could hone her skills.
For a while, that included driving overnight to Toledo every other weekend for training, said her mother, Debbie Stewart.
“She’s trained in warehouses on concrete floors — any place that had space for her to skate,” said her father, Tim Macri, who manages a hockey rink. “It would be so much easier if she wanted to skate on ice.”
“But you don’t mind it when the kids are putting in that kind of effort,” he said.
Macri’s younger sister Jade has been one of her staunchest supporters — and her competition, the family said. The sisters trained together in California and faced off at the world level until Jade retired in 2008.
Macri said she hasn’t decided whether she’ll stay on the competition circuit after the summer. And she’s taking a zen approach to the Games themselves.
“This time around, I’m older and it’s not as stressful because I just want to go and have fun. Obviously getting a medal is definitely cool, too.”