The ‘Bladress’: Young woman on rollerblades skates into diocese

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — Bishop Thomas Zinkula’s brother-in-law in Chicago texted that he’d met a young woman rollerblading across the United States who was heading to Davenport. Could the bishop help find a place for her to stay?

Barb Arland-Fye
Bishop Thomas Zinkula takes a moment to visit with Yanise Ho, who is rollerblading across the United States. She arrived in Davenport Aug. 6 and left Aug. 8. Heavy rains on Aug. 7 prevented her from leaving as she had planned.

The bishop searched the internet to learn more about Yanise Ho, an idealistic 23-year-old who began her 6,200-mile journey on rollerblades in Miami in March. Her epithet is “The Bladress” (pronounced blade-ress). Her mission is twofold: to raise funds for girls’ education through One Girl Can (onegirlcan.com) and to prove that kindness and love exist in abundance across the U.S.

Yanise covers about 20 to 30 miles a day on rollerblades and depends on the kindness of strangers, on short notice, for a roof over her head. Bishop Zinkula offered her the use of an unoccupied apartment at the chancery for her two-night stay in Davenport.

“There’s a fine line between foolishness and courage. I’ve walked that line myself and crossed it,” the bishop told The Catholic Messenger. “No matter what the situation is, if someone needs a safe place to stay, why wouldn’t we give that person in need a place to stay? It’s what we do as Christians.” He referred to the passage from Matthew’s Gospel (25:35): “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me ….”

The smiling, petite Yanise arrived at the chancery lugging a 43-pound backpack and her rollerblades. After raiding the refrigerator — the bishop’s idea — Yanise sat down for an interview with The Messenger, responding to questions between bites of a ham sandwich and pineapple.

“People are so hospitable; people support the cause, especially in the South,” Yanise said. “People are wonderful and trusting. I want to show (others) what I see.” She keeps a video diary of her journey, posting her reflections on Facebook and other social media outlets. (See The Bladress on Facebook.)

She brushes aside concerns about safety. “If you want people to trust you, you need to initiate trust,” she insists. “If you want people to love you, why don’t you love people first?”

Yanise grew up in Hong Kong, where her parents still live, and has traveled extensively. At 16, she studied abroad in Rome. At 20, she backpacked across Central America and Europe for six months. Her first rollerblading journey — from Savannah, Ga., to Miami, Fla. — took place two years ago. She plans to write a book about this second rollerblading journey.

Not everyone greets her enthusiastically on the road. But she’s learned to be patient and trust that a gift of kindness will find its way to her each day. She relies on GPS to guide her on the safest routes.

Her first night in Davenport, Yanise met diocesan seminarians gathered for Evening Prayer and pizza at Our Lady of Victory Parish. She does not claim a religious affiliation but followed along by reading prayers on the bishop’s mobile app. Afterwards, she peppered the seminarians with questions.

“I learned a lot of things about religion and Catholicism, the history of religion; the different branches,” she said. “It’s all very interesting.” She appreciated seeing the human side of seminarians and priests. Later that night she enjoyed eating goat with African priests staying at the chancery.

The following afternoon, she did an interview at KWQC-TV in Davenport. That night she ate dinner with the retired and African priests living at the chancery and asked them to pray for her on her journey. Then everyone posed for a group photo with Yanise.

“She was a delightful person to visit with concerning her rollerblading trip,” said Msgr. John Hyland. “I am amazed at her attempting this venture as she has a lot of faith that wherever she ends her day there will be a place to lodge and food to eat.”

Before leaving Davenport for her next stop, Yanise sat for an interview in the chancery with TV reporter Yukare Nakayama from WHBF-TV in Rock Island, Ill. Yanise turned the tables, asking the reporter questions. She loves meeting and learning about new people. “One of the hardest challenges,” she said, “is to say goodbye to everyone I meet.”

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