Friday, March 18, 2011

Soccer + Skates = Roller Soccer…Who Knew…

June Solomon grew up in Trinidad & Tobago, which, in case you have geography holes in your knowledge, as I did, is two islands under one government, controlled at various times in history by the French, Spanish, Dutch and British; and is one of the richest Caribbean islands, because it has oil reserves. And, even more interestingly from an RLAG perspective, it was only the second island to elect a female prime minister in the region. End of Geography 101 diversion.

June was the third of six children, raised by her single mother, who still found time to encourage her oldest daughter to participate in track and field excelled early at sports, training with one of Trinidad’s top coaches for a time, whose values and work ethic mirrored June’s mother’s. For herself, June’s biggest goal was not athletic though, it was to finish her education, not only for herself, but also for her mother, who, with six children, had not had the opportunity to finish school, as she had wanted.

At twenty-one, keenly aware of the unfavourable economic climate and the general lack of opportunity in her country, June came to the United States, hoping to pursue her sports, education, and help support her family. For years she worked as a nanny, saving money to put herself through university, taking the live-in jobs, where she could save the most. “I’ve always been a good saver,” June says. She continued to work part-time during school, and has remained good friends with many of her former employers.

In 1999, she graduated from Temple University with a degree in Kinesiology, a particular passion of hers. June always loved studying science and the inner workings of the human body. Back in Trinidad, she once won a science award and the prize was a forensic pathology textbook, which she treasured.

During school she took up skating—aka rollerblading. She was part of the once huge skate groups, who would explore Philadelphia (and other big cities) on epic tours during the night. In 1998, at a “Skate of the Union” event in DC, she met Zack. He was there promoting a new sport he’d invented, soccer on skates…roller soccer, as he called it. June noticed his skates first—Rollerblade E-Pro’s, the same model she had, still so new that almost no one wore them. Then she noticed he was dribbling a soccer ball between his skates. Never shy, not after dealing with coming to a new country, she skate-kicked the ball around a bit with Zack and the rest…as they say…is history. Instead of working on the physical side of sport & athletics, June ended up on the business side. Getting even more education to support her new direction—a Master’s degree in Sport Management from the University of San Francisco.

By 2000, June was working full time with Zack to build and promote the RollerSoccer International Federation. A bit about RollerSoccer—it’s five on five, no off-sides, no slide tackling (can you imagine? Ouch), and a lower, wider goal. And, here’s the interesting part—it’s co-ed. Why?—because it’s an equal opportunity sport. “Force and size are not factors, it’s agility, fitness and technical skill,” June says. “So there’s no reason men and women can’t play together.”

It’s been a challenging journey, and, as June says, “Like everything, it takes time.” Interest in skating in the US had waned in favour of skateboarding, but recently there have been indications of a resurgence of interest in skating. June and Zack are persisting. They are putting everything they have and earn back into their dream. “If you truly believe in something, why should you give it up if other people tell you to?” says June. Instead, June looks past the challenges, and finds one thing at a time to focus on for the future. One more tip, “I surround myself with motivators.”

As of now, there are more than twelve countries with RollerSoccer clubs, including Belgium, Brazil, Cameroon, England, France, Germany, India, Italy, Norway, Pakistan, Slovenia, and the United States. In the US there are players scattered around the country, and the challenge is to find people willing to start a club. “Most people would rather join, than lead,” June says. Still, June is working on creative ways to build the sport, including a certification program in the early planning stages. She’d love, too, to launch RollerSoccer Youth Programs (RSYP) in cities across the US. She has her work cut out for her, and she knows the road won’t be easy.

“Skating could be all work for me now. So I try hard to strike a balance with fun. I love dance skating with my divas in the park!”

‘Kick ‘n Roll’ and keep skating like a girl!