Free-wheeling spirit

A young American student has been enjoying a year of rollerblading all over town.

rollerblader 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
rollerblader 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
At 22, Shifra Dukes has been around. And around and around. A rollerblade enthusiast from the age of five, Dukes has maneuvered the pavements of her native Morristown, New Jersey; Montreal; Brazil's Porto Alegre; Florida's Coral Springs; and Manhattan. Studying computer science this year at Machon Tal in Givat Shaul - the women's division of the Jerusalem College of Technology's Machon Lev - Dukes has been getting up close and personal with the streets and sidewalks of Jerusalem as well. With her trusty K2 rollerblades, which she has been using since she was 13, Dukes goes everywhere on wheels. "I love it," she says. "Rollerblading is honest and more natural than walking. You get to places in a fraction of the time. You feel strong. And you can go really fast. It's like riding a Harley or driving a Ferrari." For example, from her apartment in Givat Shaul it takes her 35 minutes to get to Rehov Emek Refaim, and 15 minutes to zip over from Givat Shaul to Rehov Bezalel. In her intra-city travels, Dukes uses both the street and the sidewalk. The route she takes to a particular destination depends on the amount of traffic on a given thoroughfare, she says. Some drivers get annoyed when they see her coming. "They get worried and don't know how to react. They're not used to it," Dukes explains. "But I stay pretty close to the sidewalk. Drivers can't hit me if they stay in their lane." Pedestrians are also not used to seeing a rollerblader whiz by on the sidewalk, so they jump to one side or the other, making it difficult for Dukes to gauge which way to go. "If they would just stay in one place, it would be okay," she says. But those with a sense of humor coyly quip, "Efshar tremp?" ("Can I hitch a ride?") Having been in Jerusalem since last July, Dukes has become very familiar with the ins and outs of the city. Her favorite street is Agrippas. "Going down [Rehov] Agrippas is great," she says. "I live for that rush of air in my face." Another favorite is a street she discovered that goes down into the wadi toward Beit Zayit. "It's a street lined with beautiful foliage that leads into the Jerusalem Forest, but you never see anyone going there on foot," she says. "And cars go so fast, the drivers can't take the time to appreciate the view." But on rollerblades, with no traffic lights to impede her descent, Dukes is in seventh heaven. "It's like someone turned on an air conditioner," she says. Dukes is also enamored of the pedestrian mall on Rehov Ben-Yehuda. Since the section near King George Avenue has been repaved, "It feels like a skating rink," she says. But it's not always such a fun ride. "The first thing you get to notice on rollerblades are the sidewalks," says Dukes. "Here they are made of Jerusalem stone, which is very uneven and makes it hard to keep momentum." Roadwork is another problem. "Construction messes up everything. It is the devil for rollerbladers" she says. Potholes are another potential hazard. But, says Dukes, "It is easier to avoid potholes than to endure the construction it takes to fill them in. If you go fast enough, you can go right over them. If not, you can fall." When Dukes is rollerblading on the sidewalk, an accident waiting to happen is a car backing out of a driveway, someone opening a car door or cars parked on the sidewalk, forcing her to jump the curb. And if a sidewalk ends suddenly and the street isn't smooth, it's easy to get hurt. "I have to be very vigilant," says Dukes; "but I have developed a sixth sense." Wet weather is the worst, she says. "It's dangerous to be on rollerblades when the roads are wet. For traction, you need a certain amount of friction. Slippery surfaces are to be avoided at all times." Other than that, neither heat nor cold nor dark of night keeps Dukes off her rollerblades. "At night I can go for hours." The only form of protection she wears is an iridescent yellow vest with reflectors, given to her by veteran Jerusalemite Toby Shuster, a longtime friend of her grandparents. "I would not advise anyone to rollerblade without a helmet," says Dukes. "But wearing anything on my head gives me a headache. On rollerblades, I trust myself and my experience." When people ask the 1.57 m. pixie if she rollerblades to stay in shape, her response is: "I don't know, as I have always done it." The fourth of nine children whose mother is a personal trainer and her father a computer engineer, Dukes grew up learning the importance of eating right and exercise. "And it is so important to stay hydrated," she says. But there is no question that rollerblading helps Dukes keep in shape. "I have very little body fat, and people are amazed at how strong I am. Rollerblading provides good cardio exercise, builds lower body strength and is also good for the abs," she says. "Going uphill - that's where you really build muscle. You keep pushing your feet out. You're really in control; more than on a bike." The true acid test comes after a trip to the supermarket, she says. She packs some of the bags on her back and carries the rest in her hands as she rollerblades up the hills. "That is a real workout." Although Dukes is not the only rollerblader in town, she is certainly one of the most enthusiastic. "The nicer the weather, the more people come out to rollerblade," she says. But she is quick to add, "People who rollerblade only in nice weather are like people who come to Israel only on the hagim [holidays]." Dukes first came to Israel last year with the birthright program and was smitten. "I saw all the landscapes of Israel, and it whetted my appetite to see more. Getting to know the Israeli culture has been one of the best experiences of my life. "Israel has the most awesome landscape in the world. Why would anyone want to live anywhere else? This country has everything," she asserts. In addition to the hills and vales of Jerusalem, Dukes has visited many other parts of the country. Putting her rollerblades aside, she hikes the land with her boyfriend Shmuel, who is enrolled in the IDF officer training course. "You can't rollerblade on grass," she explains. A nature lover to the core, Duke says: "I get to see corners of Israel that tourists never see [with an Israeli boyfriend]. The hiking trails in Israel are better than anywhere else in the world. They are well marked, there are excellent maps and wonderful flora and fauna." Dukes plans to go back to New York next year to complete her degree at Stern College. But after that, seeing as Jerusalem is her favorite city in Israel, be prepared (not) to step aside when you hear the whirr of wheels behind you.