Every Tuesday night, Larry Hedegaard drives from Underwood, Iowa, to SkateDaze, 3616 S. 132nd St. in Omaha, arriving right at 8.
The 64-year-old crane operator makes the hour-and-a-half round-trip to skate to Boyz II Men, the Commodores, Michael Jackson. He gracefully weaves his way among the other skaters — fast and daring young men on rollerblades, cautious, shaky couples in their 20s skating hand-in-hand, other skaters his age, just as graceful as he is.
He started skating when he was five. Before he got married 44 years ago, he told his future wife that even marriage and children wouldn't keep him off his skates.
She liked to skate, so it worked out, he said. Their three children all learned to skate, too.
There's just something about it that he never grew tired of, he said.
“To me, you just come here and you relax and wind down, and then you go home and start a new week.”
Though adult skate night lasts until 10:30, Hedegaard usually heads home right at 10. He tries to be in bed by 11, he said, so he can get to work by 4 the next morning.
Such is the dedication of the roller-skating regular.
Between 80 to 150 people who show up for SkateDaze's adult skate night each Tuesday, a weekly slot reserved for only skaters 18 and older, said DJ Pat Hompal. He guesses that 50 of those are regulars. A floor clear of little kids, the retro music that Hompal plays and the beer that's served at the snack bar draws them to the rink.
Hedegaard is among those regulars. Others include:
-Rick Novotny, 56, of Lincoln, who goes by the skate name of Old Spice (it stems from when he was a ref for Lincoln's roller derby team, he said);
- Anthony Walker, 20, an assistant manager at SkateDaze who credits roller skating with keeping him from falling in with the wrong crowd;
- Michelle Stephenson, a single mother of two (she didn't want to give her age) who skates in short skirts and signature bright knee-high socks;
-Chris Cercena, 45, a University of Nebraska at Omaha computer science student and former Air Force mechanic, father of four, and lover of soul music;
- Marilyn Ogorek, 58, a former competitive child roller skater and volunteer skating coach, who lives in Plattsmouth;
- Janna Miller, a supply tech at Immanuel Hospital, who celebrated her 28th birthday at SkateDaze last week.
“It's a party atmosphere,” Hompal said. “It's like the bars, except on skates.”
And, like the bars, skating draws a huge variety of people.
“There are some people here who you would never expect to see on roller skates,” said Miller, the birthday girl.
That's part of what makes it fun.
Miller, like nearly all of the adult skate night regulars, began skating as a child. She got away from it during her teenage and young adult years, but started again after going to adult skate night on a whim a few years ago.
She enjoyed the thrill of gliding around the rink, of relearning moves she hadn't attempted since she was a child. She liked the mix of people, which gets extra interesting on costume nights, when people are encouraged to dress up in 1970-style skating costumes, she said.
Ogorek, the former child skater, is glad to see people like Miller at the rink.
“The crowd has changed in the past 10 years,” she said. “Our older skaters are not skating anymore.”
Ogorek looks younger than her years, but at 58, she's among the older women there. She started skating when she was just three, she said, and never lost interest.
“My parents met at a skating rink,” she said. “There was no choice.”
She took lessons, and eventually she and her sister traveled the country, competing in a category called “international dance.” Later, she was a volunteer skate instructor at another rink in Omaha, owned by the same family that owns SkateDaze.
Her husband doesn't skate, but even so she kept it up, maintaining both her skating form and her figure. She doesn't take the risks she once did; falling down hurts more now than it used to, she said. But she still shows up nearly every week to skate to the same songs she's skated to for decades, occasionally joining Hedegaard or one of the other good skaters for a couples skate to a slow song.
Adult skate night starts out slow, with skaters like Ogorek, Hedegaard and Novotny, the skater from Lincoln, hitting the rink early. As the night goes on, the crowd gets younger and the music gets more upbeat. Some skaters, like Walker, the SkateDaze assistant manager, begin to show what they can do (in Walker's case, the splits). Walker and other confident skaters like Cercena and Stephenson form a line and half skate, half dance to the music in time together, sort of like follow the leader on wheels. Seasoned skaters call this bouncing, Walker said.
One of the youngest regulars at adult skate night, 18-year-old Drew Grobeck, speeds around the rink on rollerblades. He can skate the length of the floor on just one wheel.
Sometimes, skate-offs erupt in the center of the rink.
“There's more to it than skating in a circle,” said Walker.
He's been a regular at SkateDaze since he was 15 and noticed older kids who mixed skating with dance moves. Right away, he decided he wanted to do that, too.
He began skating regularly, and at the same time, he stopped sneaking out at night and cutting class — bad habits he had picked up in the year or two before. “Skating kept me away from hanging out with the wrong crowd,” Walker said.
Five years since that birthday party, he now works at SkateDaze, as do some of his friends.
And he's a really good skater.
“It's a passion to me,” he said. “I couldn't live without it.”
At 10 p.m., Hedegaard says his goodbyes, though many of the Tuesday night regulars stay until the end.
Hompal plays some old soul music, drawing skaters who were taking a break for a beer or two back to the floor.
The couples who were shaky at the beginning of the night are more confident now.
Ogorek concedes that skating has fallen from favor since she and her sister traveled the country.
But she's glad to see the rink full of her friends and fellow skaters on Tuesday nights.
And she doesn't mind that the skaters of her generation are skating circles around the younger generation, just now learning how to navigate Tuesday nights on wheels.
“After 55 years, I'd better be able to do that,” she said.