Skating through adversity
Despite hurdles, skating pioneer restarts program

By Joel Hall


In the late 1980s, few people had a pair of in-line skates and even fewer knew what they were, according to fitness expert and Jonesboro resident, Joe White.

Living in the Detroit, Mich., area at the time, White hosted a television show on local cable TV called "Lifestyles 2000," in which he introduced people to new trends in fitness.

While taping the show, White was introduced to in-line skates by members of the Detroit Red Wings, who used them to train while off the ice.

"The first time I put them on, I fell in love with it," said White. Soon after, he became a advocate for in-line skating across the metro-Detroit area.

In 1992, White served on the Michigan Council on Fitness, Health and Sports. In the same year, the Rollerblade company donated to White a trailer containing 250 pairs of in-line skates, pads, wrist guards, and helmets, in order to allow him to start the Skate in School program.

"Rollerblading needed some kind of concept to promote skating to the masses," said White. "So I had this idea to bring it to the schools."

Since 1992, Joe and his wife of 21 years, Brenda, have introduced in-line skating to schools, churches, and other groups through the Skate in School program, lending people what they needed to learn the sport. When the Whites moved to the metro-Atlanta area in 1994, the two brought the business with them, while operating a successful outdoor inflatable entertainment business on the side.

The Whites did this, despite the fact that in the late 1980s, Brenda was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The autoimmune disease attacks the central nervous system, disrupting electrical impulses from the brain to the rest of the body.

While the disease impacts different people differently, common symptoms are weakness, poor concentration, uncontrollable movement, sensitivity to heat, and vision loss. Brenda's balance was the first thing to go.

"We were walking and she kept stepping on my foot," said Joe. "I thought that she was just being funny." He did not know at the time that his wife would slowly lose the ability to walk.

"I had needed some assistance, but it wasn't that bad," prior to 2003, said Brenda. "On my bad days, I used my walker and on my good days, I used my cane."

However, in August of 2003, Brenda was by herself when she spilled a tea kettle of boiling-hot water on herself, leaving her with second-and third-degree burns on her legs.

"That one accident advanced things 10 years," said Joe. Eventually, Brenda completely lost the ability to walk and required 24-hour attention to manage her ailments. The disease drained their finances and forced them to reinvent their lifestyle.

"It was almost impossible for me to go to work," said Joe. "Going out was non-existent. We had to sell everything so we could have a roof over our heads, down to the point that all we have is our skate program."

This week, after a three-year battle with Medicaid, the Whites have finally begun receiving medical assistance from the government. Inspired by that and other recent successes, the Whites are planning to restart the Skate in School program, in partnership with Pointe South Middle School in Jonesboro.

Starting in June, Skate in School will offer summer camp programs to schools, churches, seniors, and other groups interested in learning how to in-line skate. Joe said the purpose of the program is to demonstrate the "direct correlation" between physical activity and academic performance.

"When you're physically fit, it changes your attitude and helps you focus," said Joe. "When you work so hard to get yourself in shape, the chance of you doing something to throw yourself out of shape is less." He believes the program has the ability to decrease drug and alcohol use among teens, as well as help prevent teenage pregnancy.

"Being involved with Pointe South Middle School, we are going to try to show that all of this is connected," said Joe. "We're hoping to use this program to get other schools involved in holistic physical fitness."

Brenda believes the program will be successful, given that many children in the area were left without a place to skate when Buster's Fun Factory roller skating rink in Riverdale closed last year.

For more information about the Skate in School program, call (770) 369-1053, or e-mail joewhite51@msn.com.