Donna Vano buckles skates, generation gap
Donna Vano fell in love with extreme sports, or what she called pushing the envelope, in the late 70s after she moved to Tahoe from Southern California and clicked into ski bindings for the very first time.
Now, at age 46, the ex-travel agent is ranked ninth in the world among professional inline skaters – one of the few women in this highly competitive, male-dominated sport and certainly one of the most mature.
Vano’s latest accolade, one she feels deeply honored by, was being asked by the U.S. Postal Service to join three of the world’s top extreme sport male athletes to present the Xtreme Sports Commemorative Stamp series in San Francisco. The stamp was released nationwide on the first day of the ESPN Summer X Games.
“I am just so overwhelmed that extreme sports, which were always so fringe and cutting-edge – with the police after us most of the time – have finally become legitimized,” Vano said Wednesday, before traveling to the Portland, Ore., B3 games, a smaller version of the X Games involving bikes, boards and blades.
“At the ceremony they said you used to have to be a dead president to get on a stamp. It’s an incredible feeling to know that what we actually love and chose to do is finally seen as presentable to the public eye. The Postal Service is saying: We’re proud enough of this to put it on a U.S. postage stamp.”
In her raspy, cheerful voice, Vano articulately explained that the experience of being a female athlete in a primarily male sport was a challenge she simply could not resist. Back when she was a novice, buckling into her first pair of inline skates and eying a half-pipe swarming with adventurous teen-age boys, a male friend told her “I don’t think girls should do this, they might get hurt.”
The fire was lit inside the then 35-year-old Vano, and the rest, to her utter surprise, is history.
“We were so young, a lot of the guys were teen-agers still in school, but they got real creative with me, giving me all sorts of ideas for crazy things I never imagined possible,” Vano recalls. “But really, it was all just fun in the forest. I never had any idea I’d be doing this for the next 10 years, nor did I expect to be one of the only women involved in the sport on a professional level.”
Nowadays, Vano, her husband of five years, Alan (whom she met during a Team Rollerblade performance), and his 14-year-old son Johnny Vano travel all over the world, she said, competing, performing and supporting the local extreme sport community. Contrary to popular belief, Vano said, inline skaters, BMX bikers, snowboarders and skateboarders form a tight-knit community.
“We get along really well, especially on the professional level,” she said. “There’s a lot of mutual respect and admiration.”
Although female snowboarders have stepped up to the plate recently, Vano is still in a category of her own when it comes to age. The current inline skating half-pipe champion is 14 years old, and most female competitors are under 25. Although Vano claims she is a little less supple than her competitors and takes a bit longer to recover from big falls, she still deeply enjoys and thrives on the thrill of competitions and shows.
“When I go out there and they announce that I’m 46 years old, I see the looks on the little girls’ faces, and on their parents’ faces, and the place goes crazy. You can’t buy that feeling,” she said. “I don’t skate for the judges, I skate for the audience and ultimately, for myself.”
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