Nurses in action


When their shifts are over, these women wind down by revving up, as featured in the Spring 2012 issue of Scrubs.
Terri Van Houten: The Skateboarder

When a 41-year-old single mother says she’s going to “drop in,” you might assume she’s on her way to visit a friend. Not Terri Van Houten. She’s standing at the very top of a skateboard ramp, about to drop into a dance with gravity. “You’re up there thinking, ‘This is the stupidest thing,’” says Van Houten, who balances skateboarding with her job as Director of Nursing for Med-Surg Services at Glendale Adventist Medical Center outside Los Angeles. “But,” she adds with a smile, “I love the feeling of accomplishing something that your mind is telling you is totally irrational.”

It was only two years ago that she was introduced to the sport by a good friend, who happened to have a backyard ramp, courtesy of her husband. Tired of skateboarding with just guys, she invited Van Houten to join the group. “I was the only one of her friends she thought was crazy enough to try it,” says Van Houten, who has been skating ever since. Now, in addition to Monday nights at the backyard ramp, she travels to skate parks all over Southern California on weekends to practice her technique and tricks.

Her biggest accomplishment to date—aside from being a nurse manager and a mom, of course—is dropping into a six-foot bowl and “grinding the coping.” Huh? Van Houten translates: It’s a kick turn at the very top of the ramp, back axle riding along the metal pipe around the edge (that’s the coping). She laughs, “It’s a whole new language! Half the time I don’t know what my skateboarding friends are talking about. If I can do the tricks, I’m happy. I figure I don’t have to know what they’re called.”

Now she’s working on a 50-50—trying to hang her right-side wheels, front and back, on the coping, then roll back into the bowl. “There are tons of things to learn,” says Van Houten, whose only regret is that she didn’t start earlier. “I’d be so much better now!”

Turns out, there’s a whole online community of skateboarding moms, and Van Houten cops to being jealous of the veterans’ advanced moves. “In time, though, maybe I will be able to do them, too,” she says confidently. She doesn’t take formal lessons, but rather garners bits and tips from her friends and learns mostly by trial and error—emphasis on the error. “Basically you do a lot of falling—and you just try not to do that again!”

In spite of the spills, Van Houten has fallen head over heels (well, not literally, at least not yet) for skateboarding, which she finds exhilarating and so far removed from her weekday hospital environment that when she returns on Mondays, she’s fresh and eager to start working again. She also delights in defying convention. “I love the excitement of doing something challenging that people my age typically don’t do.”

In the skateboarding circles she travels in, riding is age-appropriate no matter how old you are. “I’ve met so many awesome families that skate together and it’s a wonderfully welcoming and supportive atmosphere for everyone.”

Skateboarding is a family affair for Van Houten, whose daughter has taken to the sport, though she’s not as passionate as her mom. “It’s totally backwards—sometimes she just sits and reads in the park and I’m the one skateboarding like a kid!”

Yes, she feels younger, thanks to skateboarding. What helps, too, are the workouts on her elliptical trainer two to three times a week to build lower body strength and stamina. “It may not look like it, but you do get winded skateboarding and you do need strong legs,” she says, noting, too, the other big benefit: “From a stress reduction standpoint, nothing beats spending weekends outside, being active, interacting with a lot of people you normally wouldn’t meet and focusing on something that’s just pure fun. I get to work every Monday feeling relaxed and cool.”

The only other crossover between Van Houten’s nursing and skating lives is the appreciation her friends have when they hurt themselves and she’s the voice of calm and experience: “No, there’s no break” or “Yes, you should go to the ER.” Once a nurse, always a nurse!


Catherine Ettlinger
Catherine Ettlinger is former editor-in-chief of Elle magazine as well as editor of Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire and Mademoiselle. She is the author of the hit blog the Unconfidential Cook which has already won the Honest Scrap Award. A compilation of recipes filtered through friends and family over the years, this foodie blog is chock full of photos and sage cooking advice for dinners at home, hosting parties and even homemade treats for your pet! The Unconfidential Cook is a winner of the Honest Scrap Award.

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