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da Silva, Fabiola

Fabiola da Silva

1979-

Brazilian inline skater

One of the most popular and respected inline skaters in the world, Fabiola da Silva has dominated women's aggressive skating competitions from 1996 through the early 2000s. As the first female to compete among men in the "vert" field (where skaters perform tricks inside a half-pipe), da Silva has lifted women's in-line skating to a new level. Her many titles have included the 2002 EXPN Invitational, the 2001 ASA World Championships, and five ESPN X Games. Petite yet powerful, da Silva has become sort of a cover girl for in-line skating, and has received more media exposure than perhaps any other athlete in the sport. Da Silva actively promotes women's participation in extreme and alternative sports.

Growing up in Sao Paulo, Brazil, young da Silva was a thrill-seeker who enjoyed extreme sports; she and her sister, Fabiona, were junior kick-boxing champions. Her first love was skateboarding. "I started skateboarding first, but I hurt my ankle," da Silva told Cindy Rhodes of the Press-Enterprise of Riverside, California. "I had rollerblades and I would put them on and skate up and down my street. Then I started bringing my blades to the park and learning tricks."

After only a year of learning tricks, da Silva met American inline skaters Chris Edwards and Arlo Eienberg. The former X Games medalists were giving a demonstration in a Sao Paulo skate park near da Silva's home. Edwards and Eienberg exchanged addresses with da Silva, who a few weeks later received an invitation to compete in the 1996 ESPN X Games in Providence, Rhode Island.

Overnight Skating Sensation

When da Silva, then 17, showed up in Providence for the X Games, a nationally known, ESPN-sponsored extreme-sports competition, no one had heard of the Brazilian skater. But by the end of the games, everyone in inline skating would know her name. The 5-foot-2, 112-pound skater stole the show in the women's vert competition, soaring high into the air and turning flips. With few women attempting vert tricks, da Silva was largely regarded as a novelty. "When I first came to America, they all thought I was crazy," she told Scott Bernarde of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I went so high, did a back flip. They thought, 'Where's this girl coming from?'"

Da Silva's first high-profile win earned her the attention of Team Rollerblade, a sponsored team comprised of inline skating's premier athletes. As the only woman invited to join Team Rollerblade, da Silva was an instant media sensation. Her next step, after graduating from high school, was to move to the United States, the center of competitive inline skating. Her parents, Claudette and Ernesto, supported their teenage daughter's decision to take up residence in Santa Ana, California. Claudette often travels with her daughter when she attends skating competitions, even internationally.

Dominates Women's Inline Skating

After making her grand entrance to inline skating in 1996, da Silva became a standard participant on the Aggressive Skating Association (ASA) professional tour. No other female skater, it seemed, could beat her in the vert competition, where she executed 720s (two complete turns in the air) with skill and flair. While da Silva's talent was initially for vert competitions, she gradually improved her performance in street events. Within two years she had become a force in the street competition; at the close of the 1998 season, ASA ranked her No. 1 in women's street and vert.

Meanwhile, da Silva had become inline skating's most visible promoter, and one of the most talked-about athletes in extreme sports. In addition to Team Rollerblade, her sponsors included Fifty-50, Harbinger, Athletes Direct, The Gap, and Levi's. Money from these endorsements, as well as prize money from competitions, supported da Silva in her professional skating career. As she traveled to compete on the tour circuit, the popular Brazilian skater often visited local skate parks to meet fans and offer advice. Publicizing the sport among girls has become a mission for da Silva. "I like helping everyone," she told Brad Weinstein of the San Francisco Chronicle. "I don't like to hide my tricks. We should all try and help each other, because then we can have a great competition."

While da Silva continued to dominate women's in-line skating, some female skaters posed a formidable challenge. These included Ayumi Kawasaki of Japan, who won the vert competition at the 1999 X Games, and Martina Svobodova of Slovakia, who sometimes edged out da Silva in street competitions in the early 2000s.

Skated with Men

After the 2001 season, the ASA eliminated the women's vert field due to a lack of participants. Yet in 2000 the association had allowed women to compete in the men's vert field if they qualified among the top ten. Since da Silva was the only woman qualifier, the new regulation became known as the Fabiola Rule. Da Silva welcomed the opportunity to compete with men in the half-pipe. "I think it helps a lot to show that girls can do it," she told Bernarde. "I love skating with the guys. It helps me improve. I want to be as good as they are."

Da Silva quickly proved herself at least as good as most male skaters. At the 2001 X Trial in Grand Prairie, Texas, she finished fourth in men's vert, and at the 2002 Latin America X Games qualifiers in Rio de Janeiro, she was second. In the women's street competition, meanwhile, da Silva slipped to No. 2 behind Slovoboda in the 2002 year-end ASA ranking.

Chronology

1979 Born June 18 in Sao Paulo, Brazil
1995 Hones rollerblading skills in a Sao Paulo skate park
1996 Invited to join Team Rollerblade
1997 Graduates from high school; moves to California to participate in pro skating tour
1997-98 Defends championship title in women's vert at ESPN X Games
2000 Becomes only woman qualified to compete with men in vert field
2001 Begins competing in men's vert field

Awards and Accomplishments

1996-97 First, women's vert, ESPN X Games
1998 First, women's vert; fourth, women's street, ESPN X Games
1999 Second, women's vert; sixth, women's street, ESPN X Games
1999 First, women's vert; third, women's street, ASA World Championships
1999 First, women's vert; first, women's street, NBC Gravity Games
2000 First, women's vert; first, women's street, ESPN X Games
2000 Ranked no. 1 in women's vert and street by ASA
2001 First, women's vert; fourth, women's street, ESPN X Games
2001 Second, women's vert; second, women's street, NBC Gravity Games
2001 First, women's vert; second, women's street, ASA World Championships
2001 Ranked no. 1 in women's vert and street by ASA
2002 Second, men's vert, Latin America X Games qualifiers (Rio de Janeiro)
2002 First, women's street; sixth, men's vert, EXPN Invitational (Grand Prairie, TX)
2002 Second, women's street; seventh, men's vert, ASA (Del Mar, CA)
2002 Ranked no. 2 in women's street by ASA

Da Silva turned 23 in 2002, and showed no signs of retiring from skating. "I'm young, doing what I love to do," she told Shalise Manza Young of the Providence Journal-Bulletin. "It's great, (but) Rollerblading isn't going to last forever. I want to enjoy it now. Hopefully I'll have a family by the time I'm retired, and maybe I'll start college. College is always there. It's never too late."

FURTHER INFORMATION

Periodicals

Bernarde, Scott. "Extreme Sports: She Soars with the Big Boys." Atlanta Journal-Constitution (May 19, 2002): 18D.

Rhodes, Cindy. "Xtremely Fabulous." Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA; August 16, 2001): D11.

Weinstein, Brad. "Da Silva an Inspiration on Wheels." San Francisco Chronicle (July 3, 1999): E8.

Young, Shalise Manza. "Gravity Games 2001: Da Silva, Queen of the Inline Event, Competes Against Men and Often Wins." Providence Journal-Bulletin (September 8, 2001): C1.

Other

"Fabiola." Team Rollerblade Official Web Site. http://www.rollerblade.com/skate/aggressive/bios/fabiola_int.html (January 20, 2003).

"Fabiola da Silva." EXPN.com. http://expn.go.com/athletes/bios/DASILVA_FABIOLA.html (January 20, 2003).

"Martina Svobodova." EXPN.com. http://expn.go.com/athletes/bios/SVOBODOVA_MARTINA.html (January 20, 2003).

Sketch by Wendy Kagan

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