NorthShore Inline Marathon (NSIM): Hi Joe! First tell us about your history with inline skating. How did you get into the sport?
Joe McKenna (JM): I played hockey, early on in high school, but in the early 90’s, the kids were doing this inline skating. And I said “oh man, I’m gonna try that.” I put the skates on, and I mean, I was hooked.  was the first year [of the NorthShore Inline Marathon] and we started going up there and skating. Over the years, I’ve have some decent times, especially with a northeast winds. Which has been my ally. Last year, I think I did the race in 2:12 for the whole marathon, and we had a northeast wind. My best time overall is a hour and 35 minutes.
That first year, I had never done an inline skating race. Being in a new sport, and the fact that it was the longest race point-to-point maybe even in the world, I was excited. International skaters that came over, it was highlighted and promoted and there was lots of excitement.
NSIM: You’ve been a great role model for skating to your children and grandchildren. How did you introduce your family to the world of inline skating?
JM: Over the years, starting in the 90’s I’ve been buying skates, and if they didn’t fit then the kid’s wound up with them. I have a son John who does the race competitively, extremely competitive. He has children, and they are still a little young and he’s waiting until they’re a little older. My son Charlie was one of the skaters that did rails and things. Kind of a crazy thing. He was probably the best skater, he would skate backwards during the race. They weren’t introduced until later, I only got introduced to the sport in the 90’s. But they all know it’s healthy, it’s a healthy environment to be at the race.
I’ve had 5 kids and they’ve all done the race, but I have two boys that do [NorthShore] on a regular basis. I’ve seen all those younger than me, especially as I was getting older, all passing me and… it’s awesome. What a great feeling, especially to be able to skate with my grandchildren.
NSIM: What is your favorite part of the NorthShore Inline Marathon course?
JM: I really struggle with London Road (laughs) but there is a hard surface that is grey… I can’t tell you what mile it is but you just move so much faster. Newer blacktop, there’s more resistance. Being an old guy, skating along Lake Superior, I don’t see much of the lake because I am focused who’s next to me, my left and right, are there any stones? What an awesome track, with Lake Superior. Spectators blowing the horns and ringing the bells and things, it’s great.
Duluth is one of the nicest, prettiest cities. But boy I’ll tell you, those volunteers are super people.
NSIM: What do you do to prepare for the race each year? Do you follow a plan?
JM: I used to have a training program. The last two years… well we always go out on Sundays in Antigo. Very few cars, and we go out really early, like 6. We do not like the wind at all. Last year I had to train by myself, which is why I probably got a 2:12! When I train with my son Patrick, I draft off him. (laughs). So in the past we’ve skated on Tuesdays and Sundays. Sometimes we go easy, and sometimes we do Fartlek’ing from telephone pole to telephone pole. I think that’s a term the cross country runners use…
It’s sometimes hard as a 79 and 80 year old to stay motivated, to wake up at 5:30 to be out skating at 6. But it’s worth it. Of course, for me and my health, I plan on skating for the next 8 years or so.
NSIM: When it is hard to find the time and energy to get up, go out and train, what is your main motivation?
JM: My main motivation is that I’ve got young grandchildren, they’re all going to do very well. I would like to see them graduate from high school. I would like to see some of them graduation from college.
I have good genes in my family, but I want to make sure that I can skate for another 8 years. I just did a contract with the grim reaper, I’m going to make it until I’m 92. (laughs). 12 more years! But of course, that’s the motivation.
NSIM: Finally, what are your goals for the 2019 NorthShore?
JM: To finish alive and to beat Jay Seiler*. (laughs). It’ll be interesting to see because I’ve never done the half marathon and I think I can do pretty well. And to place in my age group. I don’t know if there are many of us in the 80’s, but for those who are, God bless them! Those are my heroes!
*Jay is a past NSIM Board Member, long-time skater and volunteer coordinator.
UPDATE: Joe skated 1:29:09 at the 2019 Half Marathon Skate, good for 2nd place in the 80-04 age group!