Every morning, John Shively straps on his skates for an eight-mile workout.
The retired engineer cherishes the sensation of speed, cruising smoothly at 10 to 12 miles per hour through his morning workout.
“That kind of gliding you get is a good feeling — as long as you stay on the wheels it is,” he says before his daily 40-minute skate.
The fact that Shively is 74 and an enthusiastic skater is unusual. The fact that he’s almost blind makes it remarkable.
In 2008, complications from glaucoma stole much of Shively’s eyesight and his ability to drive or read a book. But he kept his decade-old skating habit.
“It is discouraging, but it’s not traumatic,” he says of the eye disease. “There are things you can do. There are people that can help you.”
With about 5 percent of his vision, Shively cannot see fine details, but he can see people, cars and large objects. He skates confidently around his neighborhood, taking laps around a regular course in his Baton Rouge subdivision.
Each stroke of his skate is controlled. He stands tall and balanced and pushes gracefully, pumping his arms and legs as a unit and turning corners with a quick cross-step.
“It’s good for cardio. It’s good for balance. It’s good for muscle tone,” he says. “Plus, it helps you eat a lot.”
Shively started inline skating in 1997 at age 57. His son, visiting from out of town, brought a pair. Shively took a lap around the neighborhood. On his next birthday, Shively’s son gave him a pair.
He started skating eight to 12 miles a day, totaling 2,000 miles a year.
All his life Shively enjoyed sports. He grew up ice skating near Philadelphia, and he wrestled and ran track in high school. As an adult, he liked to play touch football, and he still snow skis every winter.
Inline skating provides the excitement and the faster pace that walking couldn’t.
“You can’t really get the cardio — I couldn’t — out of walking,” he says. “You just couldn’t get your heart rate up.”
For 30 years, Shively lived with glaucoma, a disease that causes pressure to build up in the eyes and can damage nerves. It was treatable until 2008, when the condition worsened over three to four months. After two operations, he was left blind in one eye with limited vision in the other.
While he misses reading and driving, he still loves playing his guitar, an instrument he picked up in his teens, and he listens to audio books.
After losing his vision, Shively gave up skating for a year or so.
Then, as he began walking and jogging, he decided he could see well enough to buckle on his skates again.
“I don’t see the details on the road like I used to, but I haven’t found that I fall any more than I used to,” he says with a smile.
His wife, Dorothy Shively, 72, didn’t like him skating with limited vision, but his doctors approved. When they returned to Baton Rouge last year, she didn’t want him rolling around the new neighborhood.
“I didn’t want him to start back up,” she says in the garage while Shively cools down from his morning skate. “I just wanted him to walk. But after we lived here a little while and got to know the area, I feel comfortable with him skating around here.”
Their neighborhood, a new Baton Rouge subdivision with one entrance, has little traffic. Occasionally a piece of gravel or a stick will catch his wheels and send him for a tumble, but he wears kneepads, wrist guards and a helmet to protect him on those rare occasions.
Shively wants to encourage others who find themselves with a sudden loss of vision. Life won’t be the same, he says, but it can still be enjoyed.
“In my case, what’s left has really allowed me to do many things that a lot of people wouldn’t think you would want to do,” he says, “like snow skiing and skating.”