One-Wheel Roller

King of the rink Leo White is ready for prime time, but is prime time ready for him?

"Go ahead, Mommy, breathe again."

A sultry female background vocalist utters a string of three breathy pants as P. Diddy's "I Need a Girl (Part Two)" thumps on the boomin' stereo system at Skate King, located at Kienlen Avenue and Natural Bridge Road in Pine Lawn.

"Go ahead, Mommy, breathe again."

Jennifer Silverberg
Even his most experienced peers are chickenshit of mimicking Leo White's one-wheel roll.
Jennifer Silverberg
Even his most experienced peers are chickenshit of mimicking Leo White's one-wheel roll.

Snap. Just like that, the 200 black adults on the King's Northern maple floor abandon the standard smooth glide for a freestyle brand of roller-skating that is uniquely St. Lou soul.

At Skate King -- or wherever he may roll -- Leo White, also known as the "One-Wheel Roller," is the show.

A handsome, wiry, dreadlocked cat of 34 years who has perfected the rare art of skating on one wheel (per skate), White has won more than 54 regional competitions since he began skating at age six. With his ability to slip into a low, stealthy, single-skate glide from a full-throttle roll, White is the skating equivalent of the drool-inducing basketball player who can charge down the court at Formula One speed, then stop, pop and bury a jumper from fifteen feet in transition.

The One-Wheel Roller is part of a simmering local roller-skating scene that has spun steadily, even after the fad's first fifteen minutes of fame in the late '70s. Moreover, White is generally regarded as the most talented roller skater in St. Louis, if not all of Middle America.

"Just as much as you can do on four wheels, he'll do on one wheel," says Nikki Bowens of Skate Groove, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that coordinates a year-round series of skate parties at rinks all over the country (Saints, a popular Olivette rink, hosts the annual St. Louis event).

"I've seen him at a couple parties," says Sarah Teagle of Atlanta. "He always wins [competitions]. Sometimes I wish other people would win."

But Leo White is more than just a sick roller -- at least in Leo White's mind.

Leo White is multimedia, baby. He wants his own sitcom. He wants to be a model. He wants his own clothing line -- just like Nelly.

Once he's famous, he wants to give back. He wants to own a chain of roller rinks. He wants to sponsor roller-skating championships all over the country. He wants to be a motivational speaker. He wants his own foundation to help kids and teach them to skate.

He wants it all. He wants it now. He's got a helluva long way to go, and his path to superstardom begins this week. White is attending the World Championship of Performing Arts in Los Angeles, a city where everybody's somebody -- or at least claims to be. Whether he will choose to permanently relocate to LA may be the million-dollar question for the One-Wheel Roller, whose current, undeniably unusual niche of excellence is anything but sure-fire bankable.

It's Friday at Skate King -- Friday morning, that is -- although the atmosphere is decidedly nocturnal. P. Diddy's still bumpin' as an older chap dressed like an AmerenUE lineman, save for a pair of white silk gloves, flips on the flashlight affixed to his belt for a lit-up roll.

Jimmy Kimple, one of the granddaddies of the local skate circuit, laps skaters in a tizzy of stir-crazy karate chops and neck tilts that would put Mr. Roboto -- much less Styx -- on a stretcher. Lisa "Crazy Legs" Boyd, her cue-ball 'do encircled by a white Bonzi Wells headband, stops on a dime to pop-and-lock at the rail.

Nobody crashes -- phenomenal, considering that these rollers are completely ignoring the traditional counterclockwise etiquette of your grandmother's rink. When one skater buzzes another, it isn't seen as confrontational. In fact, more often than not, the near-collision is instantly and spontaneously transformed into a graceful pirouette, regardless of the would-be combatants' sex.

Light show's blinkin', peeps is blingin' -- especially Lester Savoy, who's sporting gold earrings, a headband, a red neckerchief, a gold necklace and a Tommy Hilfiger basketball jersey. An eccentric Louisiana-bred baby boomer, Savoy resembles Little Richard, minus the makeup and juiced-up mullet.

"Roller skaters are a different breed," says Savoy. "It's like a party every day."

Most of the rolling revelers work swing-shift service jobs or are self-employed. Still others knock off for lunch early, yearning for a sweaty midmorning escape from the weekday grind. Here at the King, they all try on the persona of Moët-swilling superstar, even if Pepsi is the only drink to be had at the snack bar (Skate King has no liquor license).

"It's time to get your sunrise exercise," shouts the DJ over the PA as he puts on Nelly's "Hot in Herre."

Obeying the Lunatic's orders, Aretha "Re-Re" Richardson, a sinewy 33-year-old hairstylist, strips down to her tank top, as do a dozen other mocha pixies.

"I'm a skate junkie," says Richardson. "It's like drugs."

By this point, Boyd's arms are intertwined with those of White, the only cat on the floor who can match Crazy Legs' rhythmic poise. Nelly's finished, and Clipse's "Bangin'" comes on the stereo, compelling the pair to move to the center of the floor, where a dozen skaters are already doing their thing.

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