SAN DIEGO — With sweat glistening from his forehead, George Osorio tops off a 15-mile roller-skating run with a series of graceful spins and dips in the parking lot of a Carlsbad restaurant. There to greet him is his wife, Christine, who makes the weekly Sunday morning trip from the couple's home in Linda Vista on her bicycle.
But roller skates are the only way to go for her 33-year-old husband, an accomplished skater since being introduced to the sport in elementary school at the now-defunct Palisades Gardens in North Park.
After breakfast, Osorio straps on his skates and completes the 30-mile round trip.
"He hardly works up a sweat," Christine said, joking. "For him, it's like taking a nice, leisurely stroll."
Indeed, for Osorio, who roller-skated from San Diego to San Francisco three years ago, this Sunday jaunt is peanuts.
What the roller-skating instructor is shooting for now is a strong finish for the fifth year in a row at the annual Rosarito Beach-Ensenada Bicycle Race on Saturday.
"Five years ago, a friend urged me to enter," he said. "I had no desire to do it on a bicycle, but I did want to try it on roller skates."
Much to his surprise, Osorio was allowed to enter, and in 1982 he became the first ever to skate the 72-mile course.
"I didn't really train, but I had the wrong kind of skates, which gave me whopping blisters, but it was exhilarating," he said. "I think adrenaline is what got me to the finish line that first time."
It was so much fun the first time that Osorio is now a confirmed entrant for each year's race.
"But now I wear low-heeled skating shoes, I have the right kind of wheels, and I carry a water spray bottle with me," he said. "Most importantly, I do some serious training, starting three months before the race."
For Osorio, serious training is roller-skating to and from work each day in addition to his fun weekend trips to North County with his wife. That means a 5:30 a.m. start from Linda Vista to a family-run printing business in Mira Mesa.
"The most difficult part is having to start out in darkness in the morning," he said. "I always stay on sidewalks or shoulders of the road, but still, the glare from car headlights is blinding. And there's no way to avoid it. Another problem in the dark is not being sure of your surface. I've got to look at the ground at all times in order to skate clear of broken glass, rocks and other debris."
The route is marked with steep climbs. But Osorio maintains a 12- to 15-m.p.h. pace and usually makes it to work in an hour. When he reaches his print shop, he takes a shower and changes clothes. He repeats the routine at 6 p.m. when he skates home.
"I'm just about in the shape I want to be for the race," Osorio said, patting his diminishing midriff. "If I was lazy and didn't do this, I'd find myself dying of exhaustion halfway through the race."
He has seen plenty of that during the Rosarito Beach-Ensenada grind.
"The hills are the real killers," he said. "That's where I have an advantage over bicycle riders. With all this preliminary hill work, I'll be OK, but each year I see so many bike riders poop out on the hills. Some of them are so exhausted they can barely walk their bikes up the hills."
Last year, for the first time, Osorio saw several other roller skaters during the race. "But they were holding onto cars and vans or to people on bicycles," he said. "They didn't skate very far on their own. And none of them made it to the finish."
Getting to the finish line, with hundreds of people cheering, makes the effort worthwhile.
"I can't begin to describe the feeling of total ecstasy when I cross that line," he said. "Because I'm the only roller skater to make it all the way, I get just as many cheers as the first bicycle riders when I reach Ensenada."
Osorio usually completes the race about halfway back in the pack, and he proudly points out that he is less than two hours behind the lead bicyclists.
He also said the Mexican course can be treacherous.
"The biggest problem, especially for a roller skater, is rough condition of the roads. There's so much loose gravel and debris. In order for me to make it through those stretches, I have to maintain a swift 15- to 20-m.p.h. pace. Otherwise, if I slow down, there's a big danger of getting a pebble lodged under my wheel and stopping me cold. So I just try to glide over everything."
Still, some parts of the course are unskatable. Last year, there were several quarter-mile sections in such poor condition that Osorio simply unlaced his skates, threw them over his shoulder, and walked.
On the positive side, he has seen the race's aid stations improve dramatically over the years, with plenty of water for participants.