The day I clicked ‘Send’ on my registration for roller derby, I felt powerful. I posted a selfie, looking scared and excited, grinning and pretending to chew my nails. I captioned it,
“The Face of someone who just registered for derby!” That picture got likes, encouraging comments, some disbelief and a few caring friends who thought I was having a midlife crisis.
I understood the skeptics and couldn’t even be mad at them. I am 48 this year, after all, so the timing for a mid-life crisis is right. I’m an accomplished person: professional public servant, volunteer board member, married mom of three. I am also sedentary, non-athletic in the extreme and kidding myself that I’m only 50 pounds overweight. I’ve never completed a gym membership; my go-to activities include books, remotes or other electronic devices. ‘Never walk if you can drive’ has become a lifestyle choice, if I’m being honest. I do not present as a likely candidate for any team sport, and if you made a list of the ones I might seem suited for, derby would not even crack the basement.
I knew differently. A girl at work, whose general attitude and self-confidence I admired, was the first ‘derby girl’ I met. She told me how much she loved it, and I bought into her passion. I attended an information night, and observed a ton of girls and women who looked just like me. I met up with a few other women I knew from my work world and thought, ‘Yeah...I CAN do this.’ The coaches who were there spoke about a great community. I could tell it was inclusive: the room was filled with as many different personalities as I could imagine; there was diverse physicality, sexual orientation and gender identity, people my age and older, and lots who were younger. They spoke of the ‘Fresh Meat’ program and intermediate and seasoned skaters spoke about their love for the sport, and their own journeys through the program.
I was hooked. The idea of becoming part of that community of accepting, encouraging women who would be supportive of someone who was learning, really appealed to me and I signed up and went out and bought the gear right away. I could not wait to get started.
January finally came, and I managed to get out on my skates once before the first Freshie practice. I remembered how to put on the gear, and calling on my limited ice skating experience, managed to stay upright and get a few laps around the basketball court. I was ready! Sunday couldn’t come fast enough.
It was everything I hoped it would be. It was HARD, a kind of physical effort I had never, ever made. The coaches were tough, but funny and encouraging. They eased us in with learning to fall and stop, and I was pretty pleased that I managed to stay upright. I came home a special kind of exhausted...the kind where you need help getting up the stairs, and pretty much pass out in the warm bath, hoping you’re able to walk the next day.
And I could! Yeah, I could feel it. My thighs and ass were screaming, but it felt good. Righteous. I was a derby girl. That fat kid who was the designated “manager” on the junior high volleyball team, who had been ridiculed for lack of coordination pretty much forever, was learning roller derby. I was a bad ass. A rebel. One of a collective of strong, determined women. I loved it.
Over the next few weeks, I learned more. I watched my first bout with my league mates, learning from experienced skaters what the rules were, what jamming and blocking looked like. I kept going to practice, still exhausted at the end, still sweating more than I ever had...still loving it. I reveled in getting better...every time I managed to successfully complete a skill, it was like getting a gold medal. I rocked at transitions, sucked at plow stops. Crossovers, when I got into the rhythm, felt amazing. One of the coaches, during a warm-up of squats against a wall, told me I was a “f**king professional at that.” Best compliment ever.
And the other skaters - so inspiring, encouraging. Some of the seasoned skaters came along to help our coach, and I’d be lying if I didn’t cop to a teeny girl crush, watching some of these women move. They were fast, like birds of prey swooping in and around the Freshies. They were breathtaking, and it was incredibly HOT. Watching them made me yearn to be better, faster, more graceful. I started thinking about derby names, trying to think of something that would fit in with those ‘cool kids.’
I started working out to online exercise videos, looking for opportunities to skate between practices. I was committed, and even if I didn’t get to play one day, I wanted to be in it. I loved being associated with derby, and the look of shock I’d get when someone found out I was involved. Yeah, I do derby. I’m awesome, was a new refrain in my head.
At that peak of the high, we began to learn more than just the basics. We moved on to positional blocking and whipping. Challenging, intricate moves that involved being really close to other skaters. Then, after weeks of worry, it happened. I hit the floor. I’d fallen before, but nothing like this. This was spectacular...flailing, legs straight out from under me, tailbone right on the floor. I scrambled back up, and carried on. A few minutes later, it happened again. Crack! The crash pads helped, but I definitely felt it. Again, up on my feet, and one more time I found myself on the floor. Same flailing crash, right on my tailbone. Oh, how I wanted to cry. I got up, started to skate, and realized I needed to take a break. My knees were shaking, and when I tried to get lower into derby stance, it really hurt. I called over one of the coaches to take my place, apologized to my partner, and took a seat on the edge of the bench, trying to avoid direct contact. The two seasoned skaters I admire the most for their skill and attitude both took turns checking in on me. It was lovely and embarrassing, and I finally just tried to sneak out early.
It wasn’t just that I’d fallen...three times in a row. It wasn’t just the pain, although that was a factor. All of a sudden, that whole ‘derby girl’ lie came crashing down around me. I was a fraud. I couldn’t take it. I was weak. I’ve seen girls come into practice, take falls and keep on going. I’ve seen photos of some of the most horrific bruises and injuries online, and those girls keep on going. All of the confidence I’d gained, was gone. Just like that.
It was a couple of weeks before I could sit down comfortably. I didn’t go back to practice. I knew I couldn’t skate, and I was afraid I’d fall again. I thought I should ease back. I went for an early morning skate on our local outdoor oval, and after a few laps, started to ache. But, that helped my confidence and I thought maybe I could handle a practice. I could just sit out if something got too difficult. Then, I read in the Facebook group that we’d be jumping. My heart sank. There was no way I could do that. I tried jumping without my skates on, and the impact reverberated up to my tailbone. I couldn’t go to practice like that, I couldn’t sit and watch. Just one more week.
I went skating again, this time with that friend from work who had first introduced me to derby. It was fun and relaxing and freezing. We were even interviewed by the local news crew, out capturing kids on March break. I was sure I’d be ready for Sunday. And then I read on Facebook that the next (and final) skill would be hitting. I felt so behind already, reading the girls’ comments about what they’d been doing at practice while I’d been off. My confidence hit rock bottom. I didn’t want to go, embarrass myself being so far behind the other girls. I made all kinds of excuses: I wasn’t at their level, I would hold them back, I’d get hurt again...it was all bullshit. I was scared. Scared I’d look foolish. Scared I couldn’t keep up. All of those junior high feelings came flooding back. I knew I wouldn’t...couldn’t...make it through minimum skills. I didn’t deserve to be there with the others who had kept at it, were working hard and making it happen. Everything that should have been motivating and inspiring worked in the reverse, and that fear kept me from the last practice before testing day.
I can’t explain how ashamed I am of that fear. I don’t want to live in that space for one more minute. I let it take me over, and it kept me from something I enjoy, something I want badly.
Most of the blogs I’ve read about derby are the inspirational, derby rocks variety. It is, of course. But maybe, like me, some freshies lose their mojo, fall under it, and struggle to get back.
Get back. You’re worth it. You can do this. It won’t be easy, but it is do-able.
Testing came and went, and work gave me some excuses to skip it. I knew in my heart I wasn’t ready, and in fact have probably regressed a bit. I beat myself up over that for a few days, and then just decided to own it and move on.
I have paid my dues for the next month, and I have upped my insurance from apprentice to full. I still want this. I want to get that feeling back that I had those first few weeks. I want to be strong and fast and graceful, like the seasoned skaters.
I’ll start ‘Fresh Meat’ all over again, and I’ll look wistfully as some of the Freshies I started with, move on to the Intermediate level. I won’t let that hold me back, though. I’ll start again, I’ll take the test, and I’ll keep at it. I’ll skate outdoors, going over the skills we learned early on. I’ll look to my derby sisters to keep me motivated, and meet some new freshie friends this time around.
I’ll be there. I am a derby girl, and we don’t quit.