When the Big Payoff Is Simply Love of a Sport

Wendy Miller is editor of Ventura County Life

Respect is one of those qualities, it seems, that people should have to earn, though it's often much easier to acquire. Sometimes it's just a matter of whim or fashion. Take brain surgeons, rocket scientists and peace negotiators: They really have to work hard to get respect. Then compare them to actors--many of whom have no particular training--who just show up someplace, and out of nowhere come hoards of people begging for autographs.

Athletes are a bit harder to figure out. They obviously work hard at what they do, and they go through years of training and sacrifice to acquire those special skills that earn them the millions for which we ultimately resent them.

But there is also another breed of athlete, that rare individual who goes the extra mile, trains a little harder and makes it to the top, purely for the love of the sport. How, you might ask, can we tell the difference between those who do it for love and those who do it for glory and/or money? Actually, it's easy. Have you ever heard of Joe Montana, Wayne Gretzky, Barry Bonds or Nancy Kerrigan? Now, how many lacrosse or rugby players can you name? How about badminton players? No? Then try naming the World Champion Freestyle Roller Skater. Do you know who she is?

Actually, she is Dezera Salas and she lives in Port Hueneme. And it was just a couple of weeks ago that she won a gold medal at the 39th freestyle roller skating championships in Italy.

Unfortunately--as staff writer Pancho Doll points out in his Centerpiece profile--Salas has achieved her personal best in a sport that is not as widely recognized as the skating that involves blades. In fact, roller skating is to ice skating what Roller Derby is to the Kentucky Derby.

"When I went to the roller rink to talk to her, she was waiting for a camera crew from a local television station to come interview her," said Doll. "They didn't show up. Kind of emblematic of a sport that couldn't draw a crowd if the rink was on fire."

No endorsements, no other monetary incentives, no squads of fans?

"The USA Network used to broadcast videotape of the world championships, but this year they passed on the event," said Doll.

It must be hard to keep skates oiled and morale high. How did this happen to roller skaters? "Boosters say part of the sport's PR problem is that it's not an Olympic event," Doll said. "Without the hype every four years to push a sport into the public eye, there's not going to be much interest." Which hasn't discouraged Salas enough to make her consider giving it up. "She has skated three hours a day for much of the last 14 years, and all she has to show for it are a handful of medals, probably none of them worth more than about $50," Doll said. "But, hey, she's got a skill. She can teach roller skating until her bearings grow rusty."

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