Skating on Thin Ice

João Chalupa is not an ordinary guy! A roller hockey player, he made history in 2019 by beating a world record. In 2023, he completed an epic journey that had never been attempted before. This year, he is attempting an even greater challenge. This is all the more remarkable as he completes his adventures on inline skates.

You might imagine that inline skating would be natural for roller hockey player João, but you would be wrong. Roller hockey is played on roller skates with two front and two rear wheels and, most importantly, a break! When he first tried inline skating as a kid, he leaned forward to apply the brake, discovered it wasn’t there and face-planted! He didn’t try it again in a hurry.However, João’s passion for roller hockey, which began when he was five years old, continued. He plays for the Hóquei Clube Vasco da Gama de Sines, for which he trains three times a week. In 2019, while studying for a degree in Sports Science, he was flicking through his Instagram feed and saw a post about a Guinness World Record. “I just thought it would be cool to have a Guinness World Record, and it got me thinking.”

In his second year of university in Lisbon, he approached his favourite teacher and explained his goal. They came up with the idea of him becoming the hockey player to make the most touches of the ball with the stick in one minute. João trained every day for three months until he felt ready to achieve his goal. Unfortunately, getting an adjudicator from the Guinness World Records to observe him would cost €5,000, which was beyond his budget. The permissible alternative was to use four or five people to judge his attempt. Amazingly, he achieved 513 touches in the 60 seconds. João sent the evidence to the committee and, after an anxious three-month wait, a certificate arrived confirming that he was now the holder of the world record.

João with his father also called João

João is clearly someone who likes a challenge, so when an aggressive inline skater friend lent João his skates, he decided to have another go with them. Once he had overcome the compulsion to tip his hips in order to break, he started to enjoy the experience of skating distances rather than being confined to a rink. It wasn’t long before he had set himself the challenge of doing a marathon on wheels and he conquered the 42 km distance in one day. He then decided to try 50 km and ended up covering 82 km. So what did he do next: he tried to reach 100 km. João started to dream big. If he could achieve these other goals, why not skate the length of Portugal?

João decided to do some research and plan a suitable route that avoided dirt tracks and cobblestones. He managed to convince his girlfriend, Filipa, and a university classmate, Manuel, to go on his adventure with him so that he would have a backup car if anything went wrong and to help him on the steepest descents (remember, he has no way of breaking!).

João with Filipa and Manuel

I wanted to know how much training he needed to get fit for the challenge. “My girlfriend’s father found me a summer job in the factory where he worked to raise money for my trip. It was quite physical labour, so it got me fit, and then I skated every day.”

The journey began on the morning of 27 August from Caminha, Viana do Castelo. Accompanied by his parents on his first day, João managed to get to Porto, a distance of 110 km. Unfortunately, he had made a crucial error by wearing new skates that had not been broken in. They were hard and caused lots of blisters, which were incredibly painful. “We needed to get to Aveiro in two days in order to hire the car my girlfriend and friend would travel in. I needed to cover 200 kms in two days, so the pressure was on.” After the very first day, his feet were full of blisters. “The blisters burst and left holes where the boots put pressure. Whenever I put my skates on, I’d put on a cream to take my mind off the pain. It didn’t get much better, so I had to put it on all the time,” he remembers. There were several moments when he thought about giving up, or maybe taking a break for a day or two, but his ambition and desire to complete the challenge outweighed the pain.

João covered around 60 to 70 km a day. He leaned on the support car to slow down when the descents were steeper. When he decided to put a notice in the support car indicating that he was going to skate around Portugal, he started interacting with the people on the road. While many drivers honked and gave words of encouragement, others beeped in frustration, wanting to get past. “Every time I passed a cyclist, we always talked and swapped stories. That was the most beautiful part of the trip.”

Along the way, João passed through Figueira da Foz, São Pedro de Moel, Santa Cruz, Sintra, Belém, Quinta do Conde and Sines. Some nights were spent in the homes of family or friends they knew in those towns, and, when that wasn’t possible, they stayed overnight in campsites. “There were many threats of falling, some of them serious, like when I was going 40 kilometres an hour downhill and almost did the splits. I hurt my groin, but it wasn’t catastrophic; it went away,” he says.

The pains that just wouldn’t go away were those on his feet, but while going through Troia, he met another athlete who inspired him to keep going. He kept passing a cyclist, and, when he had to stop to turn his wheels, the boy would overtake him. They kept up this game of cat and mouse until the third time João passed him. “I offered him food and water. At first, he refused, but I told him that ‘food is never refused’, and he accepted.” After chatting, he learned that his name was Gergely and that he had cycled 6,000 km from Slovenia. “We really bonded; it felt like we were two crazy adventurers.”

João with Gergely

João reached Portimão on 7 September after 12 days and 798 kilometres of skating. “The end was a mix of feelings. I felt I could have gone further, but I knew rain was coming, so I needed to finish within the schedule. So I felt enormous relief and excitement.” Sure enough, on day 13 it started to rain hard.

He was happy that he could help his new Slovenian friend on his return home when he found that Gergely was sleeping on the street in Sines. “I managed to get him a shower at my hockey pavilion, which is right next to where he slept that night. He spent the day at McDonald’s so he could work. He did translations from Czech to English and earned enough to eat and refuel while travelling. His story really moved me and inspired me to do something similar,” he says.

So, if you think this is the end of the story, you are wrong. In February, João flew with a friend to Valencia. This was a training expedition to prepare for his next epic challenge – to skate from Barcelona to his home town of Sines, a total of 2,200 km. He completed the 250 km from Valencia to Alicante in two days, which was good preparation for the longer trip, including how to overcome challenges. This time, circumstances were not on his side. It rained on the first day and João had to stop after 10 km when he became sick. His friend took over and skated 75 km. On the second day, it was sunny, so they completed the rest of the distance despite being stopped by the police four times as he did not have permission to skate on the highways. Unperturbed, they would drive a couple of kilometres and then get back on the skates. Other than the police, he told me the people and landscapes were incredible. “Every day was an adventure, and getting to know the roads in preparation for the longer trip was a good exercise.”

He is aiming to take on this challenge in July and anticipates it will take a month. João is looking for sponsors to fund this epic challenge, in particular the support car, so if this story inspires you and you would like to support his endeavours, then he would love to hear from you.

Athletes like João make this world more interesting. An adventurer who is not content to walk through life at a normal pace, he sets himself challenging goals that require superhuman strength and a mental strength that is truly admirable. And maybe this will mean we will see him skating into the record books again in the future.


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