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The Roanoke Times, Va., Dan Casey column [The Roanoke Times, Va.]

By Dan Casey, The Roanoke Times, Va.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Nov. 29--David Shinault lives in Radford, and he works there as well, as an area manager for a welding supply company. But his passion is ice skating. Over the past six years, it's become a little more than a hobby.

Besides skating and playing hockey, since 2010 the 51-year-old has been sharpening skates outside the Roanoke Civic Center and giving away scavenged skates during the skating season. On many weekend mornings, he'd pull his trailer up into the parking lot and set up near one of the coliseum doors.

There, he'd sharpen blades for a nominal charge. Inside, in space donated by the civic center, he'd fit newbie skaters into used-but-serviceable skates that cost them nothing.

Shinault has not been there since October, however. That was when the Roanoke Civic Center management informed him he needed two $1 million insurance policies before they'd let him set up again.

They wanted $1 million in general liability coverage, plus another $1 million in commercial vehicle coverage. All that for a guy who already spends more on his hobby than it brings in, and who provides genial service and free goods.

Shinault first got interested in skating six years ago, when his now 17-year-old son Tommy joined the local recreational organization Valley Youth Hockey.

"I decided it looked like too much fun," Shinault told me. So he started skating, too. First it was recreational. Later, he got involved in adult hockey, and began playing as an occasional substitute for the Rusty Blades, an over-45, no-check league.

That's how he developed a keen understanding of the difference between skating on dull blades and ones that have been carefully sharpened. So Shinault learned how to do that and invested his own money in the equipment.

He bought a specialized, blade-sharpening grinder for $1,800. And a $1,000 gasoline-powered electric generator to power the grinder. He donated 56 pairs of skates to the civic center for the use of the general public.

Two Saturday mornings a month, he'd cart the grinder and generator to Roanoke in a trailer, and spend two to three hours sharpening skates outside the civic center. He charged $5, and could do seven or eight pairs an hour.

With the money Shinault earned, he'd prowl Goodwill and other thrift stores for used skates and buy them, sharpen them, and add them to his inventory.

People donated unwanted skates, too. Others came through Craigslist. He reckons he's given away 120 or so pairs -- to people ranging in age from little girls as young as 2 to duffer guys in their 40s.

Let's make dreams come true.

Last month when he learned of the insurance requirement, he did some shopping.

Some insurance companies didn't even bother to call him back. "The ones that did said 'We're not interested,'" Shinault told me. He finally found a company based in Mechanicsville that would provide the coverage for $1,200 per year.

But that expense was more than Shinault was willing to bear for what is, essentially, volunteer do-gooder work. It put him between a rock and a hard place.

So with the aid of Ernie Caldwell, a local hockey coach, Shinault has been setting up his skate-sharpening operation on a Rutherford Avenue parking lot owned by Branch Highways.

But it's not the same. The hockey players know he's there, but many of the recreational skaters who use the civic center don't, necessarily.

And that's where things stood, until Wednesday, when I talked to Robyn Schon, the civic center's general manager.

Schon told me that the civic center didn't realize it had exposure from Shinault's sharpening operation until late in the last skating season, which was early this year. The civic center's insurance company ruled he needed his own coverage, she said.

"What would happen if a chunk of metal flew off a skate when he was sharpening it and hit someone in the eye?" Schon told me in the first of two phone calls.

"We love that he provides a service out there, don't get me wrong," she added. "We want to make this work. We don't want him to go away."

Ultimately the civic center staff was able to persuade its insurance company that Shinault's homeowners policy -- which has a far lower coverage limit -- was sufficient. And that I learned in the second phone call.

Shinault says he'll be back in business outside the civic center Saturday morning. Hooray.

If you're so inclined, you might want to stop by and thank him. The world would be a little better place if we all turned our passions into a bit of public service.


(c)2012 The Roanoke Times (Roanoke, Va.)

Visit The Roanoke Times (Roanoke, Va.) at

Distributed by MCT Information Services



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Let's make dreams come true.