BIDDEFORD, Maine — It took 20 years of hard work, but Denise Giuvelis, 26, of Biddeford recently skated home with the gold at the national roller figure skating competition.
Giuvelis is one of only three competitive artistic skaters from Maine. She competes in coed roller skate dance competitions, which she described as being a lot like ballroom dancing with eight wheels strapped to her feet.
“It was super exciting. I’ve been going to nationals since 1995, but this is the first year I won a gold medal,” she said.
In her event, called Junior Solo Dance, Giuvelis performs waltzes, foxtrots and tangos with her arms spread out. Giuvelis rolls around the smooth floor in time with the music. Sometimes she will fluidly twist her hips to turn backward with her left leg in the air through the entire move. At the national competition in Lincoln, Neb., Giuvelis sported an emerald unitard with shimmering rhinestones that swirled around the outfit.
With all the glory comes a lot of expense. The outfit alone cost about $1,000. And being a Mainer certainly doesn’t help — to compete at the national level a skater must be part of a skate club, but there are none in this state.
Giuvelis travels to Beverly, Mass., twice a week to take lessons with her coach and compete for the Beverly Skating Club. The tolls alone add up to about $20 a week plus gas. For nationals Giuvelis had to shell out for hotel rooms and plane tickets. And the 26-year-old also has to pay skate club dues, lesson costs and rink fees in addition to joining a gym so she can cross train.
“It does get difficult with work and money, but I absolutely love it. I want to have skates on for the rest of my life,” she said.
Currently, she practices in Massachusetts for eight hours a week and is at the Portland roller rink twice a week. To finance her skating, Giuvelis manages a pharmacology lab at the University of New England.
Giuvelis first put on skates at age 6 when her cousin hosted a birthday party at a rink. Her cousin got a month of free skating lessons as part of the birthday package but wasn’t interested, so Giuvelis took them instead.
“I fell in love. I’ve been roller skating ever since,” she said.
In the two decades she’s been artistic skating, she has seen fewer and fewer people lacing up at the rinks. Even the national competition can’t fill all of its classes. Giuvelis competed against 12 skaters in her class, but with nine districts in the U.S. with a maximum of three skaters each, her class could have had 27 people in it.
If it were up to her, she would have more competition.
“People don’t even know this exists. They don’t know artistic skating goes to a regional and national competition — it shocks them,” she said. “Years ago everybody knew about it and it was a lot more popular, like ice skating. It’s slowed down over the years. There is a big push to get people back into roller skating. Even roller derby or any skating is better than not skating.”
To help bring more people into her sport, Giuvelis collaborated with Happy Wheels roller rink in Portland to give lessons.
“I teach lessons at Happy Wheels because I like to give back to the skating world and teach young kids about it,” she said.
It’s that sort of effort that will keep dance skating healthy, said her coach, John Mullen. Mullen also started skating as a small child — more than 40 years ago.
“It’s been down,” Mullen said of participation in skating. “It’s on it’s way up again, I think. Young people are getting into it on the national level.”
“This year our classes had more youngsters in it,” Mullen said on the phone from Nebraska, where he will be at the national skate competition until Aug. 5. “They are the ones you groom and get into private lessons.”
Danny Dyer, the manager of Happy Wheels roller rink in Portland, asked Giuvelis if she would teach lessons two years ago. He had seen her skate during “adult night” on Tuesdays.
“She’s just an incredibly smooth skater,” Dyer said. “When she skates here she’s a very graceful skater. I have a lot of people who skate to rock and roll and bee-bop. Denise does that, but she also does some competition stuff [during open skate sessions] — not a lot because she must stay with the flow of traffic. It would be disruptful — people would be trying to watch her.”
Back home in Biddeford with a gold medal in hand, Giuvelis is planning for next year’s nationals.
“Roller skating is the most fun I ever have. It’s my own happy place,” she said. “It gets me away from the world of work and school and it’s just a fun thing to do.”