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Finding advantage

May 24, 2007

In unpacking some large boxes that have been in storage for some years, I encountered my old roller skates.  

When I was in about the seventh grade, a new roller skating rink opened up a few miles outside the small town in which I lived.  It quickly became a place for pre-adolescents, and teens to go and socially interact.  The rink was a large indoor concrete rink, and had a snack bar, video arcade, and played the sounds of the 80’s through it’s enormous sound system.   Hundreds of kids skated amidst the swirling spot lights, flashing disco balls, and black light effects.   It was a big social deal.  It was a place to see and be seen, and where friendships, rivalries, and puppy love abounded. 

The DJ running the show, would run through a range of events in each four or five hour block of time the rink was open.  There would be all skates, couples skate, boys, girls, the train, the hokey pokey, and of course, the races.  While the rink had a competitive speed skating team that met and practiced in the afternoons, the races that were during the public skating session were open to anybody who wanted to give it a go.  Prizes were a free drink or slice of pizza over at the snack bar, but more importantly, helped establish your standing in the social pecking order at the rink amongst your peer group.  

The rink would be configured into a large oval with some cones, and a start / finish line was formed.   Each race was two or three laps depending on the age group.  Wewould line up across the starting line, the whistle would blow, and we would sprint, running our our toe stops and front wheels of our skates some distance to build speed and then would start skating.   To win, you needed an advantage over your competition.

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Ideally, you wanted “speed skates”, which differed from the rental rink skates in many important areas, and were generally custom built from parts from the pro shop, which was like the pro shop at a bowling alley or golf course.   First, you wanted light weight, low cut boots to free your ankles for mobility.  Then you wanted light weight plates, aluminum or ideally the higher priced magnesium ones.  The toe stops on speed skates were parallel with the floor and adjustable in height, which allowed the skater to have a much shallower angle to the floor when running on take off.   The axles, called trucks used poly urethane bushings instead of the rubber ones for more stability, and were color coded by firmness.  I had yellow – can’t remember where that fell on the scale.  Premium bearings were available, and the factory grease could be dissolved out with mineral spirits and replaced with lightweight sewing machine oil.  I adjusted the torque of the lock nuts on my skates so that the bearings were just right, and spun and timed each wheel with a watch.  I wanted each wheel to spin for at least 2 minutes, freely, thus ensuring minimum rolling resistance.  Lastly, the wheels.  Several dozen models of wheels were available ranging from $30 to around $200.   They varied in color, style, and compound to find the right balance in grip and stiffness.   At the high end of the range, there were two wheels that had aluminum inserts in them which eliminated the bind on the bearings caused by mild deformation of the urethane wheels in a curve, which would slow you down .

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One version had these cool machined pockets that were supposed to cool the bearings.   The other version of the wheel had slightly “stickier” compound of the wheel.  I swapped parts to combine the features.

Like most contests in life, there are two fundamental approaches you can take to find advantage.  You can work on your equipment, or you can work on your personal skills, your strength, balance, co-ordination, etc.   Looking back on earlier phases of my life, I think I tended to accept the limits of my person, and chose to pursue external advantage.   It’s only been in recent years that I’ve begun to work on myself as a person, to seek advantage based on who and what I am, rather than what I have to work with.

If you reflect back on your life, do you find that you tend to work  more internally or externally?   Do you work to improve your situation through yourself, or the tools that you work with?

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