by Cherri Boom
When we talk about roller derby, sometimes it can sound like it’s all rainbows and unicorns. Don’t get me wrong. I can gush about derby all day, and sincerely. I mean every word. There is something about it that just gets me so inspired. But today I’m going to step back from that and talk about the stuff that scares me. After all, darkness and light kind of define each other, don’t they? Don’t worry, it will be okay. We can hold hands.
This Freshie training session will be my third. I have hovered somewhere between Basic Skills and Contact level for quite a while and a lot has happened since the first time I put on skates and gave this roller derby thing a shot. It started with breaking a skate at my very first practice. I was so disappointed, but still, I was pumped! After I got my skate fixed, I went all out. Every time a new skill was introduced, I knew I could do it. I felt it before I even tried. And I have to say, I was pretty proud of myself. When the cones and noodle contraption came out, girls were stressing and psyching themselves out, but I visualized myself jumping easily over the bar and that’s exactly what I did!
Knee taps, double knees, dives, awesome! I struggled with T formations and finer footwork but I felt no fear. I fell and it was awesome. I stayed upright and that was awesome too! I passed my first benchmark, took the coaching tips and began contact skating–nervous but excited. Roller derby was my therapy, my stress reliever, my happy pill.
But then things started to go wrong. Really wrong. From the little things like Plantar Fasciitis to catastrophic things, real foundation shakers. We lost a home we loved. We lost a mother to cancer. Two more cancer diagnoses, my father and a beautiful little girl who is like a niece to me. I lost a dear friend to Alzheimer’s. She was in her mid-fifties and had been my guardian angel during one of the most difficult times of my life. We lost a brother to suicide. My wife lost hope that her career dreams of thirty-five years would come to fruition as she was betrayed by an employer she had placed her faith in. And then, on the day I was to take my benchmark assessment for the second time, my wife, Mo, discovered she had breast cancer. This all happened within a two-year window, and I am here to say that kind of stuff changes you. It changes how you look at the world and at life. It changes how your heart and mind work.
The day cancer came through our door I stopped, pulled in the oars, and did everything I could to cover our heads and keep our boat from sinking. It felt as though we had been pushed around by storms for so long, but now the water was coming over the sides and all I could do was keep bailing.
Thankfully, after the tests and treatments, Mo’s prognosis is excellent. The best case scenario, and for that, I am so grateful. We haven’t had an easy run, but it has settled down and I am back on the track. For that, I am grateful, too.
But, I’ve noticed a change in my perspective regarding roller derby, and really to life in general. I used to get all pumped up about the rainbows and unicorns. Fishnets, tattoos, and derby kisses. I was in love with badass “derby-ness”, and I still think those things are awesome. But I’ve noticed when I skate, and in life, everything seems a little scarier. I never used to be bothered by the “what if’s”, I just went out and did stuff.
But, now that I have experienced some of the really hard things that life can hand out, I have started to “what if” myself. What if that stupid foot cramp is the start of another round of Plantar Fasciitis? What if I fall and break my wrist trying to jump? What if some new hardball life event comes along and throws me for another of life’s diggers? What if these aching muscles and bones are some sort of stress triggered illness? What if, after all this, I just can’t cut it?
For all my will and desire to stay positive, there is this counterbalance of fear that the next thing to come around the corner will be too big for me to cover up with rainbow paint and rhinestones. And if I’m going to be super real with you right now, I am superstitiously hoping that writing all this for you, maybe by putting it out there in the open, I’m blowing up the next sneak attack the universe has planned. (Hold on. Where is my purple rabbit foot? Oh yeah, I stuck it inside my lucky dirty sock.)
So, I’m a little less “balls out” now. I’m a little more cautious when I skate, and just cautious in general. And I really don’t believe that I can control the Universe by telling you that sometimes it scares me, but I’m crossing my fingers just in case.
I don’t know who said it but there is a quote out there that boils down to this. Courage is not about being fearless. It’s feeling fear, but continuing anyway. Fear sucks. But the thing that is so much worse than fear is surrendering to fear. Surrendering to fear means that you’ve lost hope. It means admitting you’re helpless. I’m not there yet. I am afraid of failing. I’m afraid I will not be able to overcome my physical condition, that it’s just all downhill from here. I’m afraid that even if I succeed through all the benchmarks, that I will embarrass myself by forgetting all the zillion rules of derby in my first bout. BUT! I still have shit I want to do. My guess is you’ve got shit to do too, otherwise, you wouldn’t be spending the money for skates and gear, spending the time sweating and burning on the track, or spending your mental energy thinking about derby every damned day.
So forget that “No fear” nonsense. There’s not much difference between fearlessness and stupidity. Being afraid is an intelligent response to scary stuff and there’s a lot out there to be afraid of. Life is beautiful but it’s effing scary, too. Feel the fear. Then face the fear. Because when you stare down fear, pitted out and shaking in your boots (or skates), no matter what happens, you’ve already won. That’s courage.
Beautiful, scary benchmarks are coming up. If that scares you, then get out there and be afraid. Then do your best, and go home knowing, no matter what, for that one moment in your life, you conquered the single most devastating force on the planet. Fear.