MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Before you learn to execute a trendy double push, complete a two-footed heel spin on five wheels or glide 26 miles in an inline skate marathon, you first must past the Sneeze Test.
Or at least you do if you're an aspiring 5-year-old enrolled in a summer camp at Robichon's, a 9-year-old Minneapolis inline skate school company that teaches everything from the basics of learning to stop to the latest dance moves on wheels.
School founder and master instructor Noelle Robichon's audience at an Edina park one day was eight eager skaters ages 5 to 8. One of the afternoon's first lessons: That sneeze test, in which Robichon feigned a big sneeze, flapped her lips and shook her head vigorously, encouraging her young skaters to do the same.
Assured that all their helmets were secured properly, Robichon moved on to other, more advanced topics. The one at the top of the list for all beginners -- or even some intermediate skaters -- whether age 5 or 35:
"Learning how to stop," she said.
Robichon has helped skaters overcome that natural human fear of falling since teaching her first class to 26 skaters in 1993 and now, with five other instructors, teaches a spectrum of classes ranging from outdoor skate basics to urban freestyle to the all-important "hill management."
She has seen the inline skate industry go from its boom times of the late 1980s and early 1990s into a decline in skate sales and participation that she hopes will begin to spike again with the possible inclusion of inline skating at the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Participation grew 850 percent from 1989 to 1998. It has dropped 20 percent since then but still includes more than 26 million annual U.S. participants.
A former St. Thomas University softball player and competitive freestyle roller skater, she started her company after realizing weekend athletes were discovering inline skating in droves, buckling on their new skates and strapping on helmets and "skating off into a lot of danger."
She now travels the metro area and the state in her pickup truck, pulling a 10-foot trailer filled with skates of all sizes, ramps, hockey sticks and well-used knee pads and wrist guards to city playgrounds and regional trails, where she teaches from two to six classes a day.
The beginners learn the basics. Advanced skaters learn such moves as the double push, the latest racing rage that allows skaters to power off with both skates rather than just one at a time.
She starts teaching from the ground up. From down on all fours, her young students learn they won't get scraped if they learn to fall forward using their plastic gear to protect them against the asphalt.
"Instead of sliding on your skin, you slide on your sliders," she tells the kids. "It makes skating a lot more fun."
They move on to the basics of standing in powerful positions and from there, they move to the art of stopping: Shifting from a two-footed balanced position by sliding the brake foot forward while transferring your weight to your non-braking leg, then engaging your brake foot by putting pressure through your heel.
"Within 10 to 15 minutes, you can turn anyone from being afraid into feeling exceedingly happy and excited about the sport," Robichon said. "Just a little knowledge gives people a real sense of being empowered."
From there, she said, skating gets into your soul.
"There's a real spiritual aspect that brings people back to the sport as soon as they learn they're not going to hurt themselves," she said. "There's a flow and rhythm and freedom to it once you get down the stride and feel confident. It's calming, peaceful, meditative and it's not jarring. When you do it right, it feels like someone is rocking you."
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