For the 57th daily installment of Big Wheel Blading’s Inline Skating and Life During COVID-19 series we talk to Jessica Wright. Jessica is a 41-year-old inline skater living outside Orlando, Florida in the suburb of Geneva. Jessica is a street light designer for a large environmental engineering company that handles contract work for utility companies.

What steps did Florida take to battle COVID-19 and how are things there now?

If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you’ve probably heard that the United States, and more specifically Florida, have handled the situation poorly. Social distancing was recommended much later than other countries, and the virus spread easily due to complacency or lack of uncomfortable change for certain lifestyles based on belief or simple stubbornness. I think the stubbornness was in part a result of lots of conflicting information, making it difficult to decide how to react. I’m sure most of us have some gripes about how our local governments handled things, but I like to think that at the most base level, most people did their part by listening to guidelines, doing their research and responding the best way they could given their circumstances. Right now Florida is a hot bed for the virus, probably mostly due to the older population, but it seems like the numbers may be trending down thanks to the vigilance and cooperation of most of the population and businesses.

Were you skating during the lockdown?

Yes, we never stopped skating! I am so super fortunate in so many ways- mostly to have a partner in crime (Luke) who also skates and likes to do other crazy adventure type things, but also because we live in a rural area that just happens to be overrun with beautiful swamp-surrounded trails that very few know about or use. I think we have enough overwhelming appreciation of them to make up for their lack of visitors.

Where were you going out to skate during the height of the pandemic? Where are you skating now?

The trails I mentioned before are about 15-20 minutes drive for us. There are some more urban trails closer to the city center but we avoided them during the height of the pandemic to adhere to social distance. We also avoided some of the more ‘dangerous’ trails (more traffic crossings/obstacles/hills) because while I consider myself a pretty good skater, I don’t want to take unnecessary risks at a time when all resources are needed for those affected by the virus. We still haven’t ventured out to the riskier trails but we’ll consider it if there’s a continuous downward trend in cases.

If you haven’t stopped skating, what would make you stop?

I am afraid I’d have to say that I’m probably unstoppable when it comes to skating (in the stubborn sort of way). If I woke up one day and my legs had disappeared, I would just have Luke build me a replacement set. Our plans for this year changed a lot obviously- I had decided I was going to do a few more races, including Le Mans, Apostle Island, New York 100k, Northshore, wherever World Masters ended up being, and of course Athens to Atlanta. We had been training furiously for a solo attempt at Le Mans before we learned it was canceled. Sure, we were disappointed- but it just meant that we would skate just a little bit less and focus on some other things, and set our sights on next year instead.

Are you doing any cross training?

Aside from the pandemic mess we’re all in, we’d be cross training anyway. We’re both in love with bikes almost as much as skating, so we do a lot of road bike and mountain bike riding as well. Once a week we’ll take our pooch out with us on the mountain bikes No, he doesn’t ride- he runs!

If I’m stuck inside due to the thunderstorms, I’ll pick up some weights and put them back down a few times, and I’ll practice some technique on the slideboard my fantastic sponsor (Victory Skates) built for me many years ago. Besides all that, we find some time to enjoy other outdoor activities such as hiking, kayaking/paddleboarding, swimming, surf and boogieboarding and wind sports now and then.

What other activities are you doing to occupy your time?

We’re currently working on some projects around the house – there are so many things to do around here that it would probably take a lifetime of social distancing to get them done. Right now we are building our own epic one mile trail through the woods on our property, and I’m also in the process of building a large very unique succulent garden (pictures will be posted when it’s done). More long term, we’re looking at specs and plans for building our own customized electric RV. Those are just a couple of examples – we have more projects than we can keep track of!

How has COVID-19 affected your normal everyday life?

Not really much, honestly. I have been working from home for over a year, and our company was mostly unaffected by the pandemic since utilities are considered essential. I practice social distancing already just due to the fact that I live in such a rural area, and I have everything I need close by. It’s definitely a simple life. I do miss our sporadic group skate meetups though. 

What are your major concerns right now and looking into the future?

I feel for the people most affected by the pandemic- the healthcare workers, the elderly and otherwise health-compromised, the many that lost their jobs, and even just those that are alone and need a hug. The worst part, as many have said, is how the virus disconnects us at the time when we need connections the most. My grandmother was one of the many casualties- I feel fortunate that I was able to see her and she could see us via a Zoom call set up by the nurses days before she passed away, but I can’t stand to think about how she died without being able to see her family in person. She made it to 98 so she lived a long and happy life, but it hurts me to think that at the end she didn’t understand why she was surrounded by people in full body suits and no one she recognized was by her side. I hope that even if this virus continues to affect us, at the best we can save lives and at the very least we can understand it enough to prevent people from dying alone.

How has your local skate community responded to the pandemic?

We were in the process of building our skating community back up in the Orlando area. I moved here a couple of years ago from Tampa, where the skating community is still thriving. In Tampa, urban skates are still taking place, and they’re practicing social distancing. If anything positive comes out of this, it’s that people are starting to warm up to the idea of spending more time outside, and in some cases, on skates! We do see a lot more skaters on the trails we visit regularly, and every one of them seems to be absolutely thrilled to be on wheels. When we pass each other on the trail we share a moment of  smiles and waves that we all know is a result of the endorphins we get when we’re rolling. So I’m hopeful we’ll start seeing some of those skaters at our group skates here in Orlando when it’s safe to meet up again.

Do you have anything you’d like to add?

I just wanted to say how very proud I am to be part of such a positive community that as a whole took a terrible situation and made the best of it. Everywhere I look on social media, I see skaters using their time to either grow themselves by improving their skills or grow the sport, whether it’s doing and sharing home workouts, offering virtual experiences, sharing old memories, writing articles and doing interviews, or just being positive in general in what seems like a sometimes hopeless situation. I love you skatefam- you make me smile, you make me laugh, and by doing that collectively we’ll get through this and come out the other side rolling stronger than ever before.


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