Like Phil Robertson at a GLAAD convention, I’ve been getting a lot of attention lately. Ever since publishing part one of what I’m now calling the Larson Trilogy, I’ve been getting hammered both online and off for more content. Now I know what George Lucas felt like between Star Wars and Empire, just, you know, without the gobs of money people threw at him.
Our story picks up where we left off, but not exactly. I agree to meet Jim at an abandoned roller rink on the outskirts of town. The place is dark, deserted, and still smells like Team Pigpen just finished two four-hour double-up practices. I squeeze through the busted front door, hop over the rusty turnstile and make my way to the concession area. There’s a loud bang as the lights over the skate floor fire up, and I can see Jim standing in the middle of the straightaway in full gear. He’s ready to skate, or just enjoys dressing this way…
FirstLoser: Yo man, WTF? What’s with all the theatrics?
Jim Larson: (Rapping)So get your ideas, stack your ammo, but don’t come unless you come to battle, now mount up, jump in the saddle, this is it – it’s what you eat, sleep…
FirstLoser: Whoa, I just came to interview you man, I didn’t even bring my skates.
Larson: Damn son, you blew my groove! (Throws his helmet across the rink) It’s all about you, isn’t it?
FirstLoser: No man, no one wants to hear about me, they’re sick of that. This is about you.
Larson: Yeah, well hell man, I got more to tell, so let’s get this going.
FirstLoser: That’s what I’m saying Jim.
Larson: Next question then.
FirstLoser: Well, looking over what you gave me last time, it’s clear you’re a man for all skates. I mean you’ve pretty much cleaned up on inlines and quads, both in speed skating and in Roller Derby. Have you ever done any aggressive bowl skating? Skateboarding? Downhill? Roller skiing? Any other roller sport you want to dominate in the years to come?
Larson: It’s funny you ask this question, because I am surprised I haven’t had a serious injury before the one that happened this past June (2013, when he jacked himself up real good). Back in like 1987-1989, a buddy of mine that used to skate with us back home in Illinois had a huge half-pipe I used to quad skate on. We spent a lot of days and nights on this thing, under the lights. I actually got pretty good at it! I mean I wasn’t doing McTwists or anything like that, but just cruising and getting air off the coping. Grinds were some of the coolest things on quads, brother! We had a lot of fun!
FirstLoser: Wow, that memory lighted the mood in this place. I didn’t know what the hell you were setting me up for walking in here.
Larson: It’s all about the show man.
FirstLoser: So, obviously, you’re a guy who lives for this show. What’s keeping you going after all these years?
Larson: I really think that in this sport, we tend to make a lot of friends, and those could be good or bad, but for the most part, the sport is smaller than back in the day, so there are more good than bad. I stick around because being at the track, being at a meet with my friends, it’s home.
FirstLoser: I get that, and there are a lot of people who just hang around having fun with it, staying in touch. But you, you’re not just here having fun, you’re growing, even after all this time. What’s your motivation to train as hard as you do? Why do you keep skating, (getting in my way, taking all the damn medals)?
Larson: It’s the money bro. Hahaha – yeah, print that! No, for me, the motivation to keep going is the adrenaline rush of the competition, pure and simple. I’ve never really done any sport half way, or at fifty percent of max. Speed skating is called speed skating for a reason. You want to go slow and not put the work in to go fast, well, someone else like me will. If you’re that guy that just wants to leisure roll, then this might not be the sport for you! Try something more sedentary, like BINGO! Haha. I’ll tell you this; it takes a strong person to compete in this sport.
FirstLoser: True dat, Jim. This isn’t a sport you can “phone it in” on. I tried that at ODN in 2011, learned that lesson the hard way.
Larson: But you’re still here man. Why? Because it’s a part of you. Look, you’ll have some seasons that are better than others. This sport, it will bring you down both mentally and physically sometimes, but you have to be prepared to take those lumps along the way and get right back up and go back at it! You’ve got to be tough. The losses will come, maybe more for a guy like you, but for all of us, we’ll have them too, trust me. But you have to remain focused, stay positive, and set those goals to be successful in this sport! This is one sport you cannot be on top putting in half ass work, like you did that year. That was pathetic bro.
FirstLoser: Thanks man.
At this point, I contemplate jetting out to the “rest room”, finding the gas main for the pizza oven and letting the place go up in a ball of space-carpet glory. It’s the only way I’ll get rid of this guy. He’s not ever going to go from the sport quietly. But then, my competitive spirit awakens, and I decide to press-on. I’ll take him on the track one day, as it was meant to be. So in the meantime, might as well try to dig further into his psyche, see if there’s anything I can use to further my own performance…
FirstLoser: So, tell me, do you have a career goal? You know, like breaking all the records in any and all age divisions you skate? Something like that? What is it? TELL ME!
Larson: Chill out bro, what the hell is wrong with you? Yeah, I have tons of goals, some I’m still trying to reach, some I’ve set before and achieved for a third, fourth and maybe a fifth time. There are some that are similar to ones I’ve achieved before, but with a variance in how to achieve them next. For example, go out in a race to try for a record, but do it from the front! Lead every lap and the record is yours. Or change it up, and maybe come from behind to set the record. Little things like that. Or lead every lap of every race at Nationals from start to finish. That would be some stuff brother! But you know, just changing it up. This also keeps me going strong, makes it fun.
FirstLoser: Sounds like a great way to structure a practice. Get the record book out, establish the lap times, and go for the gold.
Larson: Now you’re talking. Wow, that’s not something I’d think you’d come up with.
FirstLoser: Yeah, um, thanks again, Jim. So, how old are you now and how long do you plan on doing this?
Larson: Your line of questioning is odd man. I’m seeing a pattern here. Well, what the hell, it’s not like you’re really any kind of threat to any record I hold now, or have ever held for that matter. I’m forty-seven this year, and plan on still competing as long as I’m having fun. And winning IS FUN, so, as long as I’m winning, you’re not! Haha! Yes! But I’ll tell you this; one goal I’d like to accomplish before I get out would be World Team Coach.
FirstLoser: OK, now you’re talking about giving back.
Larson: Yes. I truly believe I could be an asset if USARS would use me in this position, or even utilize me as part of the World Team Staff. Whether it’s a coaching position, a trainer or a manager, I have a strong desire to give back and contribute to our country’s success in residency and track-side at Worlds.
FirstLoser: I think there’re a lot of us who would support that. And it’s truly exceptional that you’d be willing to make the sacrifice to contribute at that level. But let me ask you this. And I know I’m not the only one who wants to know…why aren’t you skating NSC (National Speedskating Circuit http://www.pronsc.com)?
Larson: Yeah NSC, I KNOW, I KNOW (caps for emphasis, he’s yelling, clearly agitated by this.) Well, back to another 2013 goal, it goes like this…I broke my leg in June, four weeks before Nationals. I was ready to take down the Veteran division and defend my title in Veteran Men, and then go off to Federal Way Washington, for the NSC. I had spoken with Miguel (Jose, NSC league president and co-founder) about trying out and he was like, (imitating Miguel with a funny little back and forth motion, waving his hands around, sticking out his front teeth) “that would be soooo freaking totally AWESOME bro!!!” (Regaining his composure,) trust me when I say I was ready. I was feeling good. I was skating the fastest I’ve ever been skating, and I know that Pattison’s floor well, so it would have been pretty entertaining, I would have crushed it. And after watching the tryouts, I can honestly say I would have had a good shot at breaking some hearts of those young guns. Who knows, (looking off into the distance, like Richard Gere in Officer and a Gentlemen) maybe again this next season. We’ll see how I heal up.
FirstLoser: Going pro in NSC and medaling at forty seven would be an accomplishment, no doubt. So, in thinking about your accomplishments, you know, the entire first half of this interview’s content, what’s been the most significant medal and/or record you’ve ever won or broken?
Larson: I’ve got a couple of these, but probably the most significant medal that I’ve won would actually be my first Great Lakes Regional Medal, in 1978. It was in Elementary Boys, I took second place. Even though it wasn’t a win or a gold medal, I remember earning it like it was yesterday. I can still recall each race from that meet, who got what and who placed how, over thirty-five years ago, brother. Then there’s a record I’ll truly cherish forever, and that’s the Master Two Man in 2008 with Jon Elliott. We were skating for Team Hyper and Team United, and we won and set the National Record. After the race, I fell out with a smile on my face. My legs were burning and I had a couple little tears in my eye!
FirstLoser: Sounds like you left it all on the floor.
FirstLoser: Let’s talk about other skaters. As a skater and coach, tell me, who’s the best inline skater to study for form and function?
Larson: Well this is kind of a tricky question, ‘cause there are so many technical aspects of our sport, particularly when it comes to form. Man, I’ve learned so much over the past fifteen to twenty years, on both inlines and quads. There’re a few inliners, both male and female, that I’ve watched endlessly on performance, technique, strength, exceptional sprint speed, and conditioning. A few from today’s crop, and a whole bunch from the past. Before I name them, let me just say, each of these skaters has a different, unique style they employ, but they all achieve the same goal in their own way.
FirstLoser: Ok man, how ‘bout it then? (yawns)
Larson: Pipe down, son. OK, here’s an obvious one, Chad Hedrick. He’s the man to study for outdoor. There’s no other. He’s a 50 time World Champion, he’s a master technician in his outdoor capabilities with that double push of his, and the strength this guy possesses! Let’s jump right to a contemporary super-star, Joe Mantia. Same background as Chad, but Joe is flawless in his technique, and no one has ever been so efficient. And Derek Downing…
FirstLoser: Look, Jim. No offense, but those guys are too obvious man. People are gonna read that and say,” c’mon Jim, tell us something we don’t know.” Tell you what, let’s get in the TARDIS and go back a few years…
Larson: (Standing up, clenching fists, veins bulging in his temples…) What did you just call me bro?
FirstLoser: The TARDIS is Dr. Who’s time-machine. It’s a BBC television show. Sci-fi classic.
Larson: (Taking a deep breath, sitting back down.) Dude, you’re nerd-dom almost got your head knocked in. Dr. Who? No one is going to get that reference. Anyway. Alright, I see what you’re saying. How about this…One that stands out in my mind, that I used to watch on his path coming up over the years is Dane Lewis, from Sacramento California. His technique, his power, and his sprint speed were beyond that of any other skater at that time.
FirstLoser: Now we’re getting somewhere.
Larson: But I’ve got to go back to the head of the class with Dante Muse. Sorry, you cannot ask me this question and think that I won’t bring this guy into the picture. Having had the opportunity to skate against him back in the day on quads was truly amazing. You know there are some skaters that come to an event that you just simply hate getting beat by, but if you got beaten by Dante, it’s no big deal because it’s dang near expected, and he’ll beat you! He was amazing. And you can’t mention Dante without another Muse that’s closer to my age, a champion in his own right, Tony Muse. He’s a good friend of mine and derby teammate. He’s also a legend and he’s has taught me stages of the mental game, not only as a competitor, but as a friend.
FirstLoser: Give us some names of guys that are still out there, doing this thing we do.
Larson: You bet. I used to pay close attention to a bunch of guys that I’ve either skated against in division or a relay. Guys you know like Norm Kirby, Rodney Green, Russell Parmely, Ron Dillow, Terry Palmer, Michael Fortner, Rich Russell, Paul Santana, Scott Thomas, Jim Bourgeois. These are just some of the guys that have had their day in the spotlight, all with great abilities, strengths and endurance to go with it, they are amazing.
FirstLoser: OK, what about the women? Tell me ‘bout them womens!
Larson: Chill out Superfly! I’ma have to throw some water on you! Well, on the female side there’s Julie “smooth as” Glass. Her technique is as smooth as it comes. Then there’s Theresa Cliff, Jessica Smith, Debbie Rice, Vicci King, Heather Gunnin. Just naming a few. I could name a ton more, but all of these skaters are the ones I’ve watched most over the last 10 years.
FirstLoser: Clearly you’ve rattled off a few great talents there. But in the final assessment, who are the skaters you look up to? Not the one’s you’re learning from, but the skaters you hold above all?
Larson: Well there’s you of course. HAHAHAHA! (Spits and laughs hysterically.) As if. No, no. There are a few on this list. I look up to current and past skaters alike, guys like Buggy Allmond, Jeff Foster, Curt Labeda, guys that have been doing this a long time, still skating strong, suiting up, showing up. Then there are some of the past skaters like Tom Peterson, Chris Snyder, Tim Caldwell, Tim Small to name a few. These guys through the years were and are devoted to this sport, whether it be skating or as a manufacturer. These are guys I look up to for real. Much respect (pounds chest with fist, warrior like.)
FirstLoser: I appreciate that, really. But let’s talk about those that have been inspirational. Who are those that have been the most influential to you in your skating career?
Larson: You trying to get me in trouble man? The most inspirational? Well, this might have to go out to a couple people who have inspired me. First, I’ll say my wife Denise, who also skates but is also a mental coach to me. She’s my backbone. A couple others over the years, yeah, I have a few more. My niece, Megan Gillis. In my coaching paths, Megan made the Junior World Team at thirteen years old, one of like four or five to have ever done this, and then she went on to win a medal at Worlds! Then there’s my good pal Jon Elliott. Jon’s been that friend anyone would want in this sport. We’ve been through it all, the ups the downs, you name it. I’ll also have to give a couple shout outs to a few coaches in my career. People like Jan Porter, Kelly Springer, Joe Cotter, Mark Muse, Sonny Felter, and Linda Wood. Each one of these coaches helped me somewhere in my career along the way! I thank them all from the depth of my being!
FirstLoser: It’s like you just brought it all right back home, to where your heart is.
Larson: Look man, there are more out there, but we’ll be here all day listing each one. I look at and watch everyone. There isn’t any one special person that I just look up to. Actually, I look up to every skater participating in this sport. It takes a lot of money, dedication, drive, and adversity to do well, and I look up to anyone that can overcome these hurdles to be successful. That’s why I really want a place with the World Team organization. And I think we need a few of those folks I mentioned to come forward and volunteer too, to get our program back on top.
At this point, it’s been another long session. I’m feeling confident I’ll get away from this one without bleeding, having brought him to a place where he’s clearly reflecting on the good time, good people and glory of a path well-blessed with quality people and experiences. In an effort to end the session and get to my Pokémon League game on time, I try to end it on a light note:
FirstLoser: Well, I’ve got to get…um, home, and um, record the Duck Dynasty marathon. One more question for today…what’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you at a skate meet?
Larson: Hmmm. Hahaha, yes. The funniest for me would be the Easter meet in 2010 in Hickory, North Carolina. It was the Master Men’s 500m final. There’s video of this out there too. (Laughs to himself again.) Yes, on the 4th lap. I was leading. The corner four cone was placed on the wrong mark the lap before and when I came around, I had to take the corner a little differently and chirped my wheels. It completely caught me off balance and I did a three-sixty on the Bell Lap! But check it out – I had a big enough gap to hold corners one and two, skate the back straight away, skate the last corner and win the race with a hawk! That put me over the top for the overall win for the meet! (Laughs to himself one more time.) Might not have been funny to the others in the final, but it made my day! Hahaha. It’s pretty funny when you watch it!
FirstLoser: Yeah, sounds like you’re pretty full of yourself…
Larson: Hahaha – yeah. *BAMN*
So much for getting out of here without getting cracked in the teeth. I didn’t need that incisor anyway. Tasting the metallic warmth of blood pooling in my mouth, I head for the door and make my way to FanBoy Comics, 15 minutes late for round one in the Pokémon tournament. As I sit down to shuffle my cards and deal my hand, I can’t help but think ahead to what his reaction’s going to be to the final round of questions. The state of USARS and the US World Team, 125mm wheels, his injury, his run for the Presidency. Things are going to get interesting, to say the least. Next time, I’d better wear some hockey gear, just to be safe.