MARK S. SKLANSKY, MD, grabs his nylon lunch bag and heads out the door of the UCLA Children’s Heart Center, where he serves as medical director. Stepping onto the sidewalk, the softspoken pediatric cardiologist, looking fit in dark-blue slacks and a light-blue shirt, could easily be confused for a lunchtime power-walker.
But as Dr. Sklansky bounds up the stairway of the nearby parking structure — two steps at a time — and pops open the trunk of his white Infiniti, it is clear the silver-haired physician has something more interesting in mind than mere pedestrian pursuits.
“Here it is!” he says, an impish grin creasing his lips as he reaches into the car’s boot.
With that, Dr. Sklansky pulls out a skateboard — a 33-inch-long cruiser with big blue wheels that was a gift from his wife to replace the small, obsolete ’60s-era board he rode since childhood. He gazes at it for a moment, his eyes twinkling in the gloom of the parking garage. But the workday clock is ticking, so without further ado, he drops the board, gives a push and … whoosh! With a casual confidence — and lunch bag in hand — Dr. Sklansky glides down the ramp of the parking garage to begin another cross-campus adventure.
A midday stroll? Heavens, no! For Dr. Sklansky, chief of pediatric cardiology at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital, lunch is best served on a roll.
Skateboarding has been part of Dr. Sklansky’s life for more than a half-century. Growing up in Orange County, he and his buddies sought out the smoothest asphalt, the silkiest concrete. Like hawks on the hunt, they swooped and soared, flying over streets, sidewalks and parking lots. They were oh-so stoked.
Despite this freewheeling exuberance, young Dr. Sklansky was a thoughtful, patient and intellectually intense child — as his father noted in his journal. “Mark is a very serious boy,” his dad wrote (Mark was a toddler at the time). Several years later, his parents gave him a copy of Gray’s Anatomy, which intrigued the boy no end. Perhaps none of this was as influential on the future Dr. Sklansky’s destiny, though, as the family’s academic DNA: His mother, father and younger brother all earned PhDs in their fields (his older brother earned a JD and now teaches law).
After graduating from Brown Universit y with a degree in biomedical ethics, followed by UC Irvine School of Medicine and residency and fellowship training, he spent several years at UC San Diego and USC before sticking his landing at UCLA in 2010 as a world-leading expert in fetal echocardiography. In spite of his professional accomplishments, he remains modest. “We’re really just here to help kids and their families,” he says.
Although his skateboard accompanied him through his many academic and career stages, the wheels stayed relatively still until about 10 years ago when he started skateboarding on weekends with his son, Gabriel. Then the pandemic hit, and work stress skyrocketed. Many days, Dr. Sklansky barely had time to gulp down lunch at his desk, much less step outside for a bit of fresh air and sunshine. He knew something had to change, stat.
“At first, I tried walking on campus with a colleague, which was fun,” Dr. Sklansky says. “But then I saw some students skateboarding ….”
The solution? More stoke, less stress.
On this particular fall day, Dr. Sklansky exits the parking structure, rolls up Gayley Avenue, then cruises eastward into campus. His wheels kuh-clunk, kuh-clunk as they roll over the sidewalk cracks. Gliding over a long, brick-lined path sounds like someone rolling their Rs. The campus is abuzz with firstweek activity, and Dr. Sklansky maneuvers his board with the confidence of a thousand rides. By skateboarding standards, he is exceedingly polite, giving a comfortable cushion of space between his board and others sharing the sidewalk.
“WE’RE REALLY JUST HERE TO HELP KIDS AND THEIR FAMILIES.”
Still, Dr. Sklansky is getting some looks, ranging from bemused to confused. Even a squirrel looks puzzled. Several young women do a double take as the senior skateboarder zooms past.
“I’ve had a few yell out, ‘Hey, Einstein!’” Dr. Sklansky says with a chuckle, a tuft of his silver hair billowing in the breeze.
After wheeling past Pauley Pavilion, it’s time to stop for lunch. Dr. Sklansky hops off his board and finds a shady spot in tree-lined Bruin Plaza. If he were Tony Hawk, he might be tempted to ollie up and over the bronze Bruin Bear statue a few yards away. But as Dr. Sklansky unzips his lunch bag and digs into a yummy-looking rice dish prepared by his wife, Lauren, it ’s clear set tling down to savor a tasty meal in a beautiful part of campus is something he’s been looking forward to all morning.
“The first time I came up here, I said, ‘Wow! I need this — I need to keep this up,’” Dr. Sklansky says. He pauses to take in the azure sky, the pines and eucalyptus, the clusters of students chatting and laughing around the plaza. Then he zips up his lunch bag and readies his board. It is time to get back to work.
“This next part is the best,” Dr. Sklansky says. “It’s mostly downhill.”
With a push, whoosh! And the impish grin is back.
Barbara Odanaka is a Los Angeles Times reporter-turned-children’sbook author and is founder of Skateboard Moms and Sisters of Shred. She lives and skates in Laguna Beach, California.