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Roller Skiing: No Snow Necessary

How one Grayslake man trains year-round to perfect his unique winter hobby.

Back in the middle of summer on an 85-degree day, with the sun beating down on the blacktop at Independence Grove, you could have found Barry Rotman. Despite the heat, he was practicing his skiing techniques. Sweat beaded at his forehead, as he exercised with his feet locked into ski boots and ski poles firmly attached at his wrists.

Back and forth he coasted, perfecting his technique as he trained for cross-country skiing. But this skiing can take place in the summer's heat or the winter's cold.

Get a closer look at his feet. Rotman’s ‘skis’ have wheels. A cross between a snow ski and a rollerblade, Rotman was in the midst of off-season training using roller skis.

The training has paid off as Rotman will ski in the American Birkebeiner, a 31-mile snow ski race in Northern Wisconsin, this weekend.

“I watched a guy roller ski when I was a kid and I always wanted to try it so I did,” said Rotman, 50, of Grayslake. He picked up the sport just two years ago. 

“I thought I was pretty fit when I first began, but I was really struggling when I first got out there,” Rotman said. “I’m not a great skier, but it was really pathetic.”

Harder than it Looks

Roller skiing uses nearly every muscle in the body, giving the ultimate upper and lower body workout. You can burn more than 1,000 calories an hour roller skiing.

And while it may be easier to coast along, the real test comes when you work on technique; as physically exhausting as it is, the mental challenge is just as relentless.

“You have to force yourself to go slow and focus on your form,” said Rotman’s trainer, Tom Dvoratchek of Body Physics of Streamwood. As with any sport, the better your technique; the more efficient you are as an athlete.

“It’s very low impact and you can be at any fitness level to take this up,” Dvoratchek said of why roller skiing has become so popular with runners and other athletes.

But you don’t have to be competitive to roller ski. You can purchase a pair for around $250 and regular snow ski boots snap right in. You can also roller ski on many of the local trails such as those at Rollins Savanna in Grayslake and Independence Grove in Libertyville.

On these well maintained roads and paths, both paved and limestone, the roller skis mimic the snow almost seamlessly. This makes the sport such an imperative training tool for cross-country racers, allowing local skiers to compete with those who live in the Northern regions.

“All summer long is when you make the big jumps as far as training goes,” said Dvoratchek.

The Sport Can Be Addictive

Rotman says he is striving for perfection, but is far from it. He admits he is an example of just how hooked a skier can become.

Dvoratchek said Rotman trained hard over the summer and put in the necessary hours of training when it counted. “He’s going to have a great race this year,” Dvoratchek said.

Rotman has put in countless hours of training, both with snow and without. He knows his main focus has to be in the off-season. During the spring and summer he works out six days a week between balance and strength training, yoga and roller skiing.

This February will be Rotman’s first time skate skiing the entire Birkebeiner. Joining 9,000 skiers he will make his way from Cable to Hayward, Wisconsin, a 50 kilometer or 31 mile trek. Rotman is seeded in wave five and is expecting to finish it in just over four hours.

“The hills in the second half of the race are just horrifying,” he said of his upcoming challenge.

Rotman knows he has grown a lot since his first race in 2010. At that time he opted for the shorter course of the Birkie, the Kortelopet, which is 23 kilometers. Mid-race he fell and suffered a concussion, but still managed to complete the race and cross the finish line.

Competing again in the Korte last year, Rotman said he had a hard time adjusting to the new skis he wore.

“Every year I learn something new about the race and about myself,” Rotman said while attributing his total mental and physical readiness to his trainer.

To find out more about roller skiing training, contact Tom Dvoratchek at bodyphysicstom@gmail.com. To learn more about the American Birkebeiner ski race, click here.

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