Changing Lives with Rollerskis


This is a recent article written by Madeline Frieze ’20 M.E.M. for the publication New Directions in Outdoor Recreation, created by the Outdoor Recreation SIG at F&ES. It features Ski na Rua, an NGO in a favela in São Paulo, Brazil, aimed at teaching low income youth in the community to cross-country ski on pavement. It was founded by Leandro Ribela, two-time Olympic cross-country skier and Brazil’s cross-country ski coach for the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

His heart thumped as he considered the well-groomed ski course ahead of him. Victor Santos, wearing the uniform of his home country of Brazil, fidgeted at the starting gate of the 15km freestyle cross country ski race at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. At 20 years old, he had made it to the world stage as a cross-country skier, despite having grown up in São Remo, a slum neighborhood (favela) in São Paulo. Brazil has no annual snowfall. Unlike his fellow Olympians from colder northern climates, Santos prepared for the race by training in tropical weather, maneuvering through city streets on rollerskis with a program in his community. As the starting gate beeped, Santos took off.

Rollerskiing has changed the game for cross country skiers. When the technology — platforms worn on the feet with spinning wheels to simulate skis on snow — was first popularized in the 1950s, it was simply a means for athletes to train in the summertime. By 1988, this summertime practice technique evolved into a sport of its own with a championship held in the Netherlands. Thanks to its international development, athletes in warmer, more tropical countries can now become serious Olympic competitors and gain year-round sponsorships. This possibility is perhaps most striking in the favelas, where Santos is one of many Brazilians using rollerskis to train for cross-country skiing.

Santos’ success began with his participation in Ski na Rua, which translates to “ski the streets.” Ski na Rua is a non-governmental organization (NGO) aimed at teaching low-income youth in the community of São Remo to cross-country ski on pavement. Their success was anything but guaranteed.

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