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Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

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When the Tokyo Olympics open later this month, street skating will be featured as the newest sport and New Mexico’s Mariah Duran is considered the US’ best hope for a women’s medal in the new sport. She spoke exclusively with The Paper. about how the city’s skating culture launched her career and what it means to have a New Mexican on a global stage.

Roughly 70 years after its creation on the sun-bleached sidewalks of southern California, skateboarding is about to make its debut at the 2020 — now 2021 — Olympic Games, and New Mexico has a special connection. Albuquerque’s Mariah Duran will be one of 12 skateboarders to feature for the U.S. skating team.

Duran’s rise has been nothing short of meteoric over the last few years since winning her first gold medal at the 2018 X Games in Minneapolis. She will enter the Olympics as the top-ranked U.S. women’s street skater. Duran will compete in women’s street skating with fellow Olympic hopefuls Alexis Sablone and Alana Smith.

Despite her busy schedule, Duran still finds the time to enjoy the sport that she loves. Amidst the traveling, announcements, and other obligations, Duran has yet to lose any of her passion for skating. She is still adamant about the process of the sport and continues to seek new challenges, even if she is the top-ranked U.S. women’s street skater. For Duran, the process that skating demands is part of the reason why she is still passionate about the sport. Every trick acquired brings its own host of challenges, which is an aspect of the sport that Duran admires. She did acknowledge that the sport is not for everyone, but for those who enjoy its creative freedom and the infinite amount of challenges that the sport offers, it can be a lifelong passion.

Courtesy photo by Jeremiah Arias, exclusively to The Paper.

From the road, Duran talked with The Paper., about how she has been able to sustain her busy schedule ahead of the Olympics: “Know that you’re going to be constantly challenged. Listen to yourself and make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. Don’t do it for the wrong reasons because you won’t be happy.” Duran credited her family and friends she has met through skating as serving as sources of stability.

“The circle around me has constantly reminded me and allowed me to remain true to myself,” Duran said. Despite her celebrity status in the skating world, especially amongst Albuquerque’s skating community, Duran still sees herself as just another skater. “I haven’t changed as a person. It just changes the way people act around me,” Duran said.

Duran said she is still adjusting to the amount of recognition that she receives from the skating community across the country. Based in California until the Olympics, Duran is still constantly recognized either on the street or at the skate park as one of the sport’s top talents. “I still trip out when people recognize me. I never thought skateboarding would bring this,” Duran said.

Adjusting to her fame has been a challenge that Duran has approached with humility and maturity well above her years, even acknowledging that it was a learning curve in the beginning. “It only gets overwhelming when I try to be the person that people perceive me as,” she said. Duran has managed these expectations by staying true to herself and staying focused on the sport that has launched her into the national spotlight. Even with the attention and hype that Duran is receiving headed into the Olympics, she still sees herself as a skater and member of the skating community. I’m still going to be a skater after the results,” Duran said.

Duran’s enduring humility is evident in her outspoken pride in Albuquerque, citing that the skating culture in the 505 encouraged her to continue pushing herself in the sport. “I was blessed enough to start skating with my brothers,” Duran said.

Courtesy photo by Jeremiah Arias, exclusively to The Paper.

Skating with her brothers is what first brought Duran out to the local skateparks in Albuquerque. One of the first things she noticed when she started skating was how few girls there were. “There were only 3 to 4 girls at the park,” Duran said. Despite the seeming lack of diversity, the skating community opened its arms to the talented Duran. “Everyone just saw me as another skater,” Duran noted. Duran also boasted that she is still friends with many of the skaters that she grew up with.

The historical inclusivity of the sport and the diversity of the skating community has many excited about what the sport can bring to the world stage. Skating has historically fostered a community of artists and free spirits for decades and could help redefine what a traditional athlete is. Duran shares this excitement for opportunities and conversations that skating could potentially inspire. “It’s the best timing,” Duran said. Duran will lead a team of talented women skaters on the world stage, bringing attention to the long history of women in skating.

Skateboarding has always boasted a host of talented women skaters from its inception. Patti McGee, one of the most recognizable names of the sport since its infancy, was featured on the cover of Life Magazine in 1965. Mcgee performed a handstand while skating for the magazine. “Women are now able to get support financially to continue skating full time,” Duran commented. The impact of women and the growing popularity of skating among young girls has opened a burgeoning market for skating. However, Duran noted that the challenge for many skaters, especially up-and-coming women skaters, are sponsorships.

When asked about the next generation of young women skaters, Duran says that what helped her the most was determination and passion. “It begins with an inner voice that tells you to keep going because it’s [skating] a hard sport,” Duran said.

Duran is also aware of what it means for her to represent not only the U.S. on the world stage, but also New Mexico. “I’m super blessed to have the support that I do and put New Mexico on the map,” Duran said. She also added, “If you’re from New Mexico, cheer me on. I’ll need the good vibes.”

Duran will be the only athlete from New Mexico to compete in the 2021 Summer Olympics. The Olympics are set to begin on July 23 and will last until August 8.

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