Their moves mesmerized. And their passion for roller skating — and for each other — packed a powerful presence.
Earlier this month, Robert and Flora Fitzgerald beat 21 other couples at the USA Roller Sports national competition in Fort Wayne, Ind. The Hayward, Calif., couple won in the veterans division for dance teams age 55 or older. It's their third gold medal.
See also: Dancing the years away.
"We were so excited that it almost took us off our skates," says Robert, 63, who goes by Bob. His wife is 61 and answers to Flo. "We almost fell over with happiness" after the first-place finish, he exclaims.
In 2008, they also won the veterans division team dance event. And in 2003, they captured the top spot in the premier gold dance final for qualifying adults as young as 25.
The Fitzgeralds' romance began at the roller rink. He was 19; she was 16. Except for his four years in the Navy, the couple, who have been married 42 years, have been inseparable.
"This is special because we've been doing it a long time," says Flo. Skating "makes you use your muscles and your mind."
In sync with each other
Teams are judged primarily on timing, execution of the prescribed patterns and precision of footwork. By the time a competition rolls to a close, they've performed a foxtrot, march, polka, tango and waltz.
The oldest dance-team participant this summer was a 90-year-old man. "Our membership is skating much longer than they used to," says Jane Wojnarowsky, figure-skating director at USA Roller Sports in Lincoln, Neb., and a coach for 35 years.
During the demanding sequence of steps, a couple must remain in constant contact. That can propel a budding romance, but when out of sync, skates can collide and cause falls.
The Fitzgeralds have fallen many times over the years. Bob has fractured his ribs, hand and wrist. Flo has fractured her wrist, elbow, knee, foot, pelvis and back vertebrae. She even hit her face against the floor. At 42, she underwent a total hip replacement.
"I have osteoporosis in advanced stages, but I've kept skating through the years," says Flo, a hospital financial counselor.
"This girl is amazing," says Bob, who retired as a senior traffic engineering aide for a local municipality. "She's superhuman. And there isn't anybody at the national level who doesn't know that already."
Their resilience impresses Bob LaBriola, 80, the couple's coach for a dozen years. "They're very competitive," he observes. "It's a joy teaching them."