In class by herself, Da Silva skates to top of men's ramp

Brazilian, 23, dominated women's `vert' to point event was made unisex

X Games

August 17, 2002|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA -- For years, people have called Fabiola Da Silva one of the best female in-line skaters in the world.

They're still doing it this week at the ESPN Summer X Games, but now they're taking gender out of the equation.

She's simply one of the best in the world. Period. Da Silva will be competing against men in the aggressive in-line vert competition - where skaters perform tricks inside a halfpipe and are scored by judges - and she's certainly not doing it as a novelty act. She's got a shot at winning the thing.

How did that happen, you ask? Well, to be honest, Da Silva, a 23-year-old from Brazil, was so good for so long, she helped eliminate the women's division. The X Games, which are in their eighth year of existence, dropped the women's vert this year because of a lack of female competitors.

"I knew this day would come," Da Silva says. "But I think it's much better for me. ... I can't give up. In the beginning it will be hard, but in the future it's going to be good."

Da Silva's attitude reflects her upbringing. Growing up in Sao Paulo, she shunned dolls and other things she considered "boring" in favor of skateboarding and other thrill seeking. (She and her sister, Fabiona, were junior kick boxing champions in Brazil.) After picking up a nasty ankle sprain in one of her local skate parks, one of her friends suggested she try rollerblading. It wasn't long before she was hooked.

Soon everyone on the in-line scene knew her name and was stopping to watch every time she skated. At the Summer X Games in 1996, she solidified her place in the sport by winning gold in the women's vert. After graduating from high school, she moved to the United States and went on to duplicate the feat in '97, '98, 2000 and '01.

"She just blows us away," men's pro skater Cory Miller told Sports Illustrated in 1999. "Fabiola does tricks half the guys won't even try."

Still, a part of Da Silva yearned for more competition. Though normally quiet, Da Silva isn't afraid to speak her mind when it comes to skating.

"What kind of contest was there for me when there was never any challenge?" she says.

In fact, when she heard she'd have to compete against men if she wanted to keep doing vert - women still compete in the park competition at the X Games - her first thought wasn't: This is unfair. It was: OK, what do I have to do to win?

"I know I'm going to have to work harder for sure," she says. "But I think if people see me trying harder, it will [inspire] more girls to get involved."

So far the results have been promising. Earlier this year, she just narrowly missed winning the unisex vert competition at the Latin America X Games qualifiers. She finished second, but only because Brazilian Marco de Santi did a double back flip in his final run.

"It was so much fun," she says. "I really thought I was going to win, but Marco [was] awesome."

Like any sport, speed and strength are essential in in-line skating, and even though she's only 5 feet 2 and 112 pounds, Da Silva makes up for her lack of stature with a fearlessness and a work ethic that few skaters can match. She is a regular in the gym whenever she's not on the halfpipe.

"I know I have to take care of my body," Da Silva says. "You always see guys with swollen knees and elbows with the girls. I know they don't train."

No one can avoid injuries completely, however. That's just the nature of the sport. Thursday Da Silva tweaked her knee during her first run of the park competition (an event she won in 2000) and had to pull out to save her chances in the vert competition Monday. Da Silva shudders when people think she's a skate junkie and little else.

"I just can't live with skaters anymore because all they want to do is skate all day long," she says. "You have to have more in your life. I have to go to the gym, write e-mails and clean my house just to get away from it for a while."

Da Silva says she eventually wants to travel and then maybe enroll in college.

"I think school is really important, but I know it will always be there for me to go to. Skating won't. When the time comes, I'll go back to school."

For now, she'll keep on blazing trails and turning heads.

"I think this is much better for me," Da Silva says of competing against men. "I know I'm not going to make as much money, but I don't care about the money. If I do win something, and I know it's going to be tough for me, I'll know I deserved it."

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