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A Kid's Life: Meet Lana Bolin, 14 1/2, Edina

Star Tribune
Published Oct 3 2001

The sweet sound of a saxophone wafts through Lana Bolin's bedroom window on a still summer evening, as if from a musician on a street corner.

That's unlikely here in Brookview Heights, a 1950s Edina subdivision where the streets curve like al dente spaghetti and the houses look like icons from a Monopoly game.

Lana Bolin in action.
Photo: Darlene Pfister
Star Tribune

The musician is Lana's best friend, Janet. She lives next door and they've known each other since third grade -- the same year Lana started her illustrious juggling career. They both love the saxophone almost as much as Lana loves the novelty that her best friend is also taking bagpipe lessons.

Welcome to Lana's world. It's the one with a minivan and a pop-up camper in the drive. At 14 1/2, Lana is a juggling prodigy and an all-around clean-cut American kid.

Tall and lithe, Lana moves with the kind of coordination you'd expect from someone much older. She keeps her curly brown hair pulled back and seems to have escaped the Britney Spears fashion trends. And she's multitalented -- not just a juggler, but a basketball star and a self-taught pianist, as well.

Today, Lana's going to teach me to juggle.

"Start slow, with two balls," she says.

OK, got it. As I struggle, we talk. I ask how she spends her spare time.

"I don't get bored very often," she says.

What does she want to do when she grows up?

"I don't think about it much," she says. "It's not that close.

"Four years is a long time," she adds, as she contemplates turning 18. "I feel like a kid, not an adult."

Look around her room -- a kid's room. The walls are a "Where's Waldo?" of her interests. The sky-blue walls are painted with clouds that subtly resemble a saxophone, juggling clubs, a basketball and a treble clef.

She's not fond of the gold carpet, which was left over from when her only sibling, Marshall, lived at home. He's married now, and lives in an apartment nearby.

And there's a shelf overflowing with juggling and basketball trophies.

She adds a third ball to my lesson, but I'm still struggling with two. It's clear I need help. She takes out her clubs to demonstrate, and soon she's juggling as naturally as she breathes.

Her cat, Fern, lurks safely under a chair, probably because she's used to dodging basketballs and juggling clubs.

Lana belongs to the Jug heads juggling group and this year she's studying under a world-renowned juggler named Jay Gilligan.

She tells me to focus.

I find that hard, which leads me to ask her if there's anything that she finds hard.

"Starting homework, but not the homework itself," she said. (Lana is a straight-A student.)

She urges me to add a third ball to my routine, even if I can't catch it. I do, but they all come crashing down.

When the lesson is over, all I've really learned is that Lana has a gift and I do not. Her dad sums things up.

"Lana's been running since she's been walking," he says.

Boys haven't come up in the conversation yet, except in the context of competition. Juggling is a male-dominated sport. I ask if she's competitive.

"Winning is important, but not in juggling," she says. "The goal is always just to get in."

-- Jim Buchta is at jbuchta@startribune.com