Free-wheeling seniors become ageless on skates
Updated: 2013-07-18 05:46
By Sun Xiaochen in Qilian, Qinghai (China Daily)
Bai Lisen, 65, rolls down the road alongside Qinghai Lake during the ongoing 2013 Tour of Qinghai Lake International Cycling Race. Sun Xiaochen / China Daily
When Bai Lisen glides through the square of the Qinghai Lake scenic resort in full roller-skating gear, he drew little attention from the crowd waiting for the riders of the Tour of Qinghai Lake cycling race.
But when he stops, takes off the helmet and brushes his white hair with his fingers, a big "wow!" rises from the crowd.
"How could a grandpa go skating as coolly as a teenager did? I thought it was a much younger man," says Ryan Collins, a US tourist who was among a crowd taking photos with Bai.
Boasting fitness that presented a sharp contrast to his white hair, the 65-year-old becomes the focus at the race's starting line, where tourists, reporters and event staff applauded his vigorous presence.
"He has stolen the spotlight from the riders," Collins observes.
Hailing from Xining, capital of Qinghai province, Bai is among 150 roller-skating enthusiasts from Qinghai and Gansu provinces who gathered at the start of the race's third stage to cheer the athletes before launching their own touring campaign.
"We are also ready to tour the lake but will ride on much smaller wheels," Bai says with a grin before joining others to wave welcome banners for the riders.
Organized by the Xining-based Jiahe tourism agency, Bai and other skaters set off from a scenic spot on the lake's southeast corner, rolling down the cycling route for about 145 km along the south and west bank before taking a bus ride to finish the 300-km tour around the lake.
It's not only a fitness tour but also an environment protection campaign: Members helped clear up trash left by tourists and the racing crew along the circle while promoting the "green travel" concept.
"As a Qinghai native, we feel proud to be part of our local event and to make contributions in our own way," said Huang Lu, a 43-year-old freelance writer who joined the skating club last year.
As skating emerges as a popular mass fitness activity in Xining and surrounding areas, the high-altitude Qinghai Lake circle is no longer a touring destination only for cyclists. More and more skaters are eager to challenge the tough route - and share experiences online.
Huang says club members will call on each other to participate in a web forum, where members also share outdoor skating routes and training tips with each other.
More than 100 skaters routinely practice on the Xining Square three times a week. Many of them are gray-haired enthusiasts like Bai.
However, the public square remains far from an ideal field for roller sports. Rookie skaters sometimes clash with crowds and hurt themselves.
By organizing the tour, Huang says he also hopes the government would pay more attention to grassroots fitness campaigns and eventually help improve practice facilities.
Despite the risks of getting hurt, Bai says the elderly should be more active and embrace roller-skating with full protective gear. The activity helps maintain lower-limb strength and physical coordination.
"When I decided to join a group of aged skaters in 2007, my family members were like, 'Are you crazy?'," says Bai, a retired teacher with Qinghai University for Nationalities.
"They thought it's a sport only fit for young people. But it's actually quite appealing to me and good for keeping young."
The roller sport has succeeded his former passion for ice-skating, which he enjoyed in the 1970s. Bai says outdoor exercise could be the cure for senile depression.
"Old people shouldn't just stay at home waiting for children to visit once a week. They can still have personal hobbies and have fun with them."