ick-ass playlists. But by the time I was in the car, headed to my next practice, I was forcing myself to sing “Unstoppable” and fighting back tears and anxiety. I was NOT unstoppable. I was a ridiculous middle aged woman clutching a pair of roller skates.
By Cherri Boom
A few years back, I was taking a public speaking class. We were given an assignment to write a speech themed, “If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?” I had one week to write the speech and I spent six days crabbing about how lame the assignment was. This was a college course, for cripes sake, not sixth grade. In my mind it was just one step above the old saw, “What I did during my Summer vacation”.
But then my aversion to poor grades kicked in and I started to try to figure out a way to make the assignment interesting. The night before the assignment was due, I began in earnest to try and come up with an animal I could relate to. My “go-to” favorite animal from the time I was about five was a horse, so I started imagining what it would be like to be a horse. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the life of any domestic animal would probably not be so great in most cases. I started thinking about wild animals. Again, the prospects weren’t great, unless you’re at the top of the food chain, and even then, well, let’s just say that I realized that A. Being human was preferable to living as any other type of life-form, and B. Humans were the number one reason living as an animal was a frightening thought.
I didn’t anticipate this line of thinking when I started the assignment, nor the difficulty I would have in choosing an animal. Ultimately, I fulfilled the assignment by choosing a fictional creature, the magnificent blue Na’vi in the movie Avatar. Physically, they had amazing animal abilities and they exemplified the loftier human qualities that we frequently lose sight of. It was then that I realized a distinction in how I feel about humans in general. And that is this: I really dislike people. HOWEVER! I have a very strong attachment to many, many persons. (And yes, some of those persons are my dogs, Jesse, Maggie, and Opal.)
When I watch the news, or hear about a tragedy caused by selfishness, or when I see injustice or harm caused by greedy corporations, it makes it easy to view the human race as a type of parasitic infection. I feel sometimes that we are a doomed race and that eventually, the planet’s immune system will kick in, and with a raging fever, will wipe us all out. I know, it’s pretty heavy stuff. People suck.
But, when I start focusing on the persons around me, seeing the good in each individual I meet, watching how kindness is enacted, reciprocated, and then spread, it gives me hope that maybe as a human race we will figure out how to be stronger in our good qualities than in our destructive ones.
So what does that have to do with roller derby? It is always so uplifting to hear positive comments, encouragements, and supportive words from other derby girls. How weird is that, because, after all, derby is an aggressive and competitive sport. On the track, maybe you’re a Tasmanian devil, or a grizzly bear, or a badger, or a rattlesnake. Then the whistle blows, the jam is over, and a girl who just buffaloed your ass, is reaching down to pull you off the floor. Why? Because we are all in this together. A derby girl understands that supporting other derby girls is imperative to the survival of derby. We have to stick together, push each other, and learn from each other, so we can go head to head on the track and play some effin’ derby. If we destroy each other, then ultimately we destroy ourselves. How is that for a real life lesson?
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.
Learning to skate as an adult seems a lot harder than when I first put skates on about a hundred years ago. For one thing, my bones and muscles and joints don’t have that wonderful rubber band quality any more. Also, my skull has a lot farther to go when I transition rapidly from upright to horizontal.
I am thankful for muscle memory that spans the decades and allows me to remember how it feels to skate. But through those decades I accumulated some physical deficiencies that keep me on–or rather, off–my toes.
The toe-torturing skill that tends to get the best of me is called a stutter stop, specifically a left stutter stop. To execute you start by assuming the ever-praised low derby stance: “boobs up, butt down”. With burning quads, shift your weight to your right leg, reach your left foot out in front of you and–while maintaining the low derby stance and your balance–you tap your left foot, toes inward, on the floor in a “stutter” to bring yourself to a stop. Right!
It’s a challenging skill, and one I can do in a reasonable fashion with my right foot, however, my left foot hates it and I get instant toe curling cramps.
Last week, it seemed that everything I did caused my foot to cramp. I would start a skill, get a cramp, skate it off and try again. Eventually, I wound up on the bench, battling the abusive monologue of my inner mean girl. Shall I give her a name? Okay, let’s call her Joy Kill’r.
Kill’r is a relentless bitch. I’ll admit, she has made me cry more than a time or two. She says some pretty hurtful things. Last week, her rant went something like, “You’ve already fallen apart so many times. Why put yourself through the humiliation of doing it again? You know you’re not going to make it, sweetheart.” It’s crazy how she knows exactly what my fears are.
Lucky for me, Havoc was there on the bench, too. We chatted for a few minutes; she provided counter arguments to Kill’r’s diatribe. And for my part? Well, I may have gotten a little emo about the whole thing. (Insert sniffling sound here.) I halfheartedly heeded Havoc’s pep talk, got up, and tried a few more skills, still babying my foot, still feeling deflated.
By this time, practice was nearly over. Only one thing left on the agenda. That’s right, endurance skate! I cringed a little when Sugar Baby announced it, even though I knew it was coming. Perhaps I inwardly whined a little about endurance skating at the END of practice. (Because derby is all about making things easy, right?) I didn’t want to sit it out on the bench, but I sure didn’t want to skate only two minutes and have to bail. Dilemma!
I decided to compromise with myself and also stop whimpering about stuff being hard. I would bench Joy Kill’r and her stupid mouth and skate, but not full throttle.
I haven’t yet reached the elusive 27/5. My best is only 24. I was thinking that night it was probably going to be more like 18-20 if I was lucky, but I wasn’t even going to count. No sense giving Kill’r any ammunition.
The whistle blew and I started skating. I focused on two things: not popping up in the turns and hitting the points of the diamond. I started skating and I began getting that skate buzz. My crossovers were smooth. My focus was good. I was finding all the holes on the crowded track. Next thing I knew I was nearly keeping pace with some of the Scrimmage girls. My low back was fatigued but not burning. I was breathing hard but not gasping for breath. It felt amazing! At four minutes I was still feeling winded but strong. At five I felt exhausted and fantastic.
I didn’t count my laps. I don’t even want to know what my count was. It felt like I did my 27 just because I could feel I was doing more of the right things than I had ever been able to do before, and that was progress. That night, I got to go home knowing that I showed Joy Kill’r it was MY track.
Sometimes derby is more about what’s going on in your head than what’s going on with your body. We all have our struggles. That’s easy to forget when you’re wiping your nose on the bench. But Joy Kill’r is not the boss. I’ll try to remember that. You try too.
I had a nice chat with Bull this week. We talked about some of the things that intimidate new skaters. One thing in particular that she touched on had been on my mind for a while so, after hearing Bull’s perspective, I wanted to air it out with you all.
I haven’t spent much time with Bull in the past. She has always been friendly and supportive, but I am kind of an introvert haven’t gotten to know many of my teammates. There have been many times I have felt like I just didn’t fit in. So, imagine my surprise when she shared with me that she has struggled with the whole “fitting in” thing too.
We talked about how we can really shoot ourselves in the foot because of how we perceive how well (or not) we “fit” with a group of people we are just getting to know. Especially when a bunch of those people are good at something we want to do but really suck at. Like skating.
I’m being transparent here. I still feel like I don’t fit most of the time! But the truth is, it is really my perception and not the reality. The people I am getting to know in AFA have the most supportive attitudes of any group of women I have ever met. And this is what keeps me coming back. Not only do I want to be the recipient of that attitude, but I want to be the kind of person that shows others “Hey! You do belong here.”
Before derby, my social pool was kiddie sized. I lived for most of my adult life with no close friendships. So, trading my kiddie pool for an Olympic sized derby pool meant making a decision to let faith, rather than fear, dictate how I interacted with people.
For example, before derby, I had never known a transgender person. But because of derby, I had the opportunity to meet a woman who started her life, biologically male. I will tell you, this gave me some anxiety. Not because of her, but because I felt my inadequacy to mentally roll with ease over the hurdle of what I didn’t know, to what my heart wanted, which was to make her feel welcome and at home with us. I was afraid because I knew it was very likely that I would unintentionally say or do something that would offend her. Like slipping and using the wrong pronoun or saying something that betrayed my ignorance about what it is like to live as a transgender woman.
But, by pushing through the anxiety, and into the desire to show friendship, I gained something wonderful. I gained a friend that I came to know as sensitive, funny, vulnerable, and incredibly strong. She and I would chat here and there, and as I got to know her, she described some things from her point of view that helped me understand her better, and to appreciate her class and her sense of humor. She helped me feel like I fit in with her, despite my anxiety about my own shortcomings.
So, you can see how inclusiveness works. You make an effort to include, and then wind up feeling included yourself. You figure out that whether or not you “fit in” there’s a place for you at the track and welcome and friendship too.
Now, we have a bunch of brand new skaters, and I’ve seen enough new skaters to recognize a few things. EVERYONE feels like they don’t “fit” at one point or another. Everyone has anxiety about something or about someone who is different from themselves. At some point, I believe everyone has a moment, or six, when they think it would be best just to quietly slip out the back door. But that would be a loss in so many ways.
If that is you, if you feel like you don’t fit in, if you feel like bolting, please don’t. Not only will you miss out on getting to know some incredible people, but we’ll miss out on getting to know you. Give yourself a chance to find your place. Look for someone who looks like you feel and say hello. Just stick around for a while and see what happens.
Derby Love, Angels
One of the amazing things about derby is the opportunity it gives to women to participate in a team sport as an adult, a woman with responsibilities and obligations. I have tried to think of another sport that has as much to offer women as roller derby does and I honestly cannot.
I look at my fellow derby players and I see women of so many different backgrounds, skills, personalities, occupations, ages, experiences, and lifestyles. The one thing they have in common is that they want to play a sport that will stretch and challenge them in ways that they left behind when they left school. They want to participate as women, on a women’s team, in a women’s sport, relishing in the athleticism and competition that has traditionally been exclusively reserved for men’s sports. Derby gives that to us in a unique and beautiful way.
Parents want their children to participate in team sports for many reasons but I think one of the most common reasons given is that parents want their children to develop confidence. Unfortunately, so many girls transition to their lives as adult women with very little confidence. The confidence that was fostered in the girl takes a beating in adolescence, and as an adult, a woman’s confidence is often considered a negative trait. There are very unflattering names for truly confident women. Confidence is for men, as are adult team sports. Unless you are a professional athlete, as a woman, your options for challenging team sports are nearly non-existent.
This is why I love roller derby. I am a decided extroverted introvert. My natural inclination is to camouflage my presence in social situations. I played sports as a student. I was not very good at any of them but I enjoyed being on the team and managed to pull off a few shining moments that bolstered my self-esteem.
As an adult, I have struggled with my self confidence a lot. I had my children at a very young age, which made me self-conscious at times and I have struggled with my weight my entire adult life. In my late thirties, I weighed 225 pounds. I was depressed, in a toxic marriage, and completely isolated from any social life at all.
At 40, I left my husband. At 41, I came out as a lesbian. I started teaching kickboxing, telling people that was how I got down to a size 4, but spent about two years denying that I had become anorexic, literally living on gin, cheese and crackers, and cigarettes. I started smoking for something to do in the middle of the night because I only slept about 2 hours per night. I was so emotionally, physically, and mentally depleted, I was even beginning to lose my hair. I had absolutely no confidence. I was completely hollow.
Needless to say I have come a long way since then. But I think, if I had had the support of a team like I see with the Angels, things never would have gotten that bad. I think that the growth I have experienced in derby would have prevented me from becoming so self destructive. I would have had friends who encouraged me and made me feel valued and respected. And I would have had something to throw my energies into that wasn’t tearing me down, but building me up.
We use the term “Derby Love” and I feel that it is a bona fide and legit thing. I love how the Angels treat each other, and I look for opportunities to show that Derby Love when I can, because I know what it’s like to be looking up from the bottom of a well, hoping for a friendly face, or a kind word. Sometimes you have to have some love from someone else before you can grow the confidence to Derby Love yourself. That’s why I love derby.
One of the few things you can count on in life is that it will change, absolutely and without question. I like to say that I embrace the idea of change and I frequently seek change. But, I will also admit that I fight for control of change, and that is where my wheels usually come off.
I love to learn, and experience, and grow. But I don’t always grasp that it’s the things I can’t control that bring the most profound and valuable life experiences. I’m usually too busy trying to make them stop, or at least force them to submit to my will. Let me share how this might translate into derby life.
You decide to join a roller derby team which means you gotta learn how to skate. You strap eight tiny wheels to the feet that you have navigated for most of your life without conscious thought and then, well, you roll. Simple.
You envision that you’re going to glide smoothly across a glossy slick floor and go from point here to point there. And you’re going to do that in an upright and graceful state.
Suddenly, the feet, legs, butt, and arms that you routinely ignore as you push your cart down the grocery aisle or walk down the stairs are all in a panic, fighting for control. They yell at you to take charge, to use your brain to prevent them suffering some serious damage.
This is when you begin to realize two things simultaneously. A. You’re about to fail. And B. You hope like hell you don’t.
Fear driven determination kicks in and, with clenched fists and gritted teeth, you will yourself to stay vertical. After all, people are watching and your sense of self preservation and dignity is well developed and almighty.
You become acutely conscious of each action. You fight for control of everything. Toe stop down, gingerly push. Roll forward. Teeter. Wobble. Accelerate. Make undignified whimper noises. Realize that starting was the easy part before you bend your knees, lean forward, wobble some more. Whimper louder and use your toe stop to try to stop. Hope you are actually stopping. Pirouette around toe stop and manage to keep your balance before coming to a tenuous stop. The trainer blows her whistle signaling to everyone to gather around her. Teeter. Thank goodness you happen to be stopped in the right place. Heave a sigh of relief as you stand, vertical status intact, and take a quick glance around at the cluster of women who have all just danced the same dance as you, aaaaand…
Wham! Suddenly, you’re looking up at the legs and butts of those same women. You never even felt it coming. Those sneaky, greasy, lowdown, $@&#% wheels slipped skyward and you found yourself instantly on your ass. You were just standing there, minding your own business and now you’re sprawled on the floor like your drunk Aunt Mitzi at every family wedding. But that’s not all. You’re about to have a derby lesson about the illusion of control.
First, you haven’t experienced that kind of pain on your backside since you fell off the monkey bars in third grade. Second, you may or may not be able to breathe. Third, various body parts are calling you ugly names. But, the worst, most mortifying thing of all, is your timid, wallflower bladder is cowering “Sorry, guys. I just couldn’t hold it!” Are you serious?
Now you have a decision to make about your so called control. You can unlace your skates and hightail it to the ladies and do some bladder damage control. You can pull up your hoodie, throw on your Foster Grants, grab your gear and control yourself right out the back door.
Or, you can stand up, own your uncomfortably moist situation, and make a mental note to be prepared for future episodes of derby PMS (Peed MySelf).
You can accept that falling happens, that eventually you’re going to get hit, and that it’s probably going to hurt. You can decide to look forward to your first derby kiss and hope that it’s a lovely dark purple so you can show all your friends how badass you are. You can decide that it’s okay that you’re not in control. Yet.
Falling on your ass hurts. It’s a complete and utter lack of control. It’s humiliating, but the first time is the worst. It does get better. But if you embrace the pain and the failure you’ll be rewarded with something priceless that comes from inside you.
Falling means you’re pushing, you’re persisting, you’re persevering. It means you’re finding the thrill of the skill every
time you push yourself off the floor. It means that soon you’ll know what it feels like when you skim over the floor. You will know the feel cool air on your hot, salty face as you push to do your 27/5. You’ll get to feel a body buzz when you nail a killer turn around toe stop in your new, powerful and (dry) upright derby stance. No one can give that to you but you. And no one can take it away.
Life has a way of throwing some pretty brutal hits. You can be standing there minding your own business and then, without warning, you’re on your ass, and it hurts like hell and you wonder “What the hell just happened?” Maybe you need to take the bench, catch your breath, and pull yourself together. You can even hit the ladies to change your shorts. But, then you have to decide, are you going to sneak out the back door, play it safe, try and get control of the uncontrollable? Or are you going to get back up, live out of control and skate?
One of the great side effects of derby is increased confidence. Each time I get on skates I am nervous. I feel inadequate. I feel a little intimidated. Then I start to feel the wheels, and my legs warm up and my heart starts beating and I stop thinking about what I can’t do because I am focusing on what I am being challenged to do. I am skating forward. Awesome. I am picking up some speed. Hurray. My crossovers are smoother and more rhythmic. Yippee. And then, a new skill is introduced and suddenly I am skating backward or doing transitions or sliding to a stop on my toes, and each new skill that is introduced brings a momentary slight panic that it’s something I can’t do. But then the next thing I know, I am listening to the trainer or a vet give me pointers, breaking everything down, and making it look so easy. All I can do is focus, listen, and try it and then, ta-da! I fall on my ass. I get up. I stumble through it. Maybe I fall on my ass again. But, eventually, it comes.
So, here’s the amazing thing. Falling on my ass has been one of the best things in the world for me. Because, when I fall on my ass, there are a team full of girls there saying “Great fall! You’re really pushing yourself!” and they really mean it. Falling in derby means you’re learning. It means you’re living. And it means that you can take the bump and get up and keep going.
Something happens when you hit the floor and you bite it hard. Hard enough to rattle your bones. Hard enough to make you pee your pants. You feel pain, and sometimes it is a lot of pain. I have fallen so hard my legs turn to jelly when I stand back up again and it takes a few minutes to skate it off. But those things are just a part of it. Taking a digger, feeling the pain, and getting back up again triggers an emotional and mental response that I have never experienced before, and it’s the reason any derby girl will proudly show her “derby kisses”. You begin to feel your strength. For me that was a feeling I didn’t recognize and it is addicting. You begin to understand your personal power when you get up, shake it off, and get back to work. You skate the practice out, finish crusty, salty, achy, tired, and triumphant. There is a high that I feel after a good practice, when I have made it through the whole thing and did something I didn’t know I could do. That feeling has filtered through derby practice and has started affecting the way I feel when I am not on skates. It feels good. It feels like something I have missed my whole life. If I take nothing else away from derby, that in itself is priceless.
Have you ever wondered about roller derby? Like, seen a picture or an article and had a little flutter of curiosity and a flash of derby fantasy? If you’re like me, it was more than a flutter, and, like me, you probably daydreamed “Whip It: The Sequel” starring (insert your name here). And then, like me, your grown up brain kicked in and said “Was that light green or did we just blow through a red? Wait, is it only Wednesday?” (Yaaaaawwwwnnnn)
Well, give your adult self a cookie and put her down for a nap. You’re going to grab your inner (wild) child by the arm and drag her to the Lewiston Armory to see what this roller derby business is all about.
This is not just any derby night, it’s your FIRST derby night. You, fresh derby diva, have just begun an exciting new adventure with the Androscoggin Fallen Angels Roller Derby League.
You’re early because you’re excited and nervous.
When you step into the Lewiston Armory you mentally kick yourself for being too eager. It’s awkward. Super intimidating. You see women of all shapes, all sizes, all kinds, and they are gearing up.
These are the vets, the badasses, the ones who have already clambered over a bunch of derby hurdles to form this fledgling team. They are laughing and talking, busy doing their derby girl thing. You hear things like “which wheels are you using tonight, 94s?” and “look at this bruise!” “Are we doing 27 in 5 tonight?” You have no idea what they’re talking about
Your eyes scan the wide open gymnasium for something to stand behind before one of them notices the new girl. No luck. You’ve got your new derby gear in your old canvas tote (so lame) so there’s no hiding, no backing out. Suddenly, you remember exactly what the first day of high school gym felt like and exactly how terrifying your gender can be to it’s own kind.
But, you only shake in you sneakers for a split second before a friendly face appears to welcome you and show you the ropes. She explains the gear, checks your mouth guard and helmet for proper fit, and reassures you that you don’t have to know how to skate to do this.
You sit on the bench and finish gearing up, watching the vets out of the corner of your eye to make sure you’re not committing any derby faux pas. Girls pass by, saying hello, introducing themselves with fantastic derby names and you wonder if the names you have been thinking about are cool enough or whether everyone will think they’re silly. Maybe, you say to yourself, you should just forgo the derby name. But so far everyone seems so friendly and down to earth. Maybe this will be okay.
New girls start to trickle in, and you see on their faces how you must have looked a few minutes ago, waaayyy freaked out! You try to relax and take it all in. Butterflies are out of control.
A couple of team members are all skated up and gliding gracefully around the track, warming up. Most of the skaters are finding the newbies to welcome them and give them pointers on how to make sure gear is secure. You’ve already got your gear on so now you can watch and listen.
“I don’t think I can even stand up on these things!” Nervous laugh. “ No kidding! I don’t remember how long ago I last skated.” Someone nods her head as she struggles to figure out which way her knee pad goes. “Did you get butt pads? They’re not required but I’m afraid I’ll break my ass!!” More nervous laughter. “I don’t want my ass to look any bigger than it already is.” “I don’t know about wearing those tank tops. All my fat rolls will show.”
You recognize your own thoughts in the chit chat. As you listen you begin to realize, this is how we women try to fit in, get comfortable with meeting new people in an intimidating situation. We tell everyone how pathetic we are, give them a heads up, before they have a chance to do it for us. That way, when we fail, at least we can save face by saying, “See? I told you I suck. You can’t say I didn’t warn you!” You laugh, and throw in some self shaming of your own. You don’t want to seem like you’re too full of yourself.
But maybe in your not- too- distant past you would have judged some of these women in just the same way they are judging themselves on your behalf. It’s what we do in our culture. We judge each other, we judge ourselves, and we accept and internalize judgement as though it was our birthright as women.
You start to really look at these women who are just as crazy as you are and just as flawed as you are and you have an epiphany. If you apologize for your self and your imperfections, then you’re telling everyone around you that not only are you not worthy, but neither are they. Because how can you hate your own rolls, or bony knees or clumsiness without, in turn, hating someone else’s?
You ponder this during your first practice as you struggle to stay upright, to shake off the burning in your legs and back, to catch your breath, keep up with the girls, wipe the salt out your eyes.
Then, BAM! You fall, and you take out a few other girls in the process. You’re mortified. Did you hurt someone? Break something? Pee your pants? You can’t even get yourself up and you’re reaching out to help your victims. “Omigod, are you okay? I’m so sorry!”
An Angel glides up to make sure no one is injured. She is smiling as you’re still apologizing for causing the crash, and she says “There’s no sorry in derby!” You recover. Push through the embarrassment and you skate out the rest of the practice.
Maybe it doesn’t sink in completely, maybe it’s not a light switch moment, but maybe, on your first night of roller derby, you learned something that had nothing to do with skating. You learned you can give yourself permission, at least for one night a week to just be, in all your glory and with all your flaws. No apologies. No sorry. Who knows where that might take you?
Introducing Cherri Boom, who will be writing a regular column for us about her real time journey learning roller derby skills!
Several years ago, at my brother’s dining room table in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, somehow the topic of Roller derby comes up. There is a local team, The Jackson Hole Juggernauts, affectionately nicknamed The Juggs. We all talk for a bit about what an awesome thing it was and I distinctly remember saying, with sincere but rationalized longing “Oh! I wish we had a team back home. I would do it in a heartbeat!”
Even as I said it, I was already dismissing the fantasy of myself in roller skates and fishnets busting up a pack of girls with black eyes, missing teeth, and tattoos. Well, maybe not entirely dismissing it. Knowing full well, that at the age of, erm, forty something, that ship was never even coming into my port, my inner Walter Mitty invented a single derby name before curling up for a nap in the corner of my mind. Amanda Crush took a few glorious laps through my imagination and then she too slipped into hibernation beside him.
Now, jump ahead to December 2015. I’m headed out the door to work. I don’t usually read the paper, but I happen to spy the words “roller derby” on the upturned page of the newspaper on the kitchen counter. I’m late but I stop to read it anyway. I can’t believe it! Lewiston has had a roller derby team right under my nose!
I run down to my car and start searching Facebook. Voila! There it is! I contact the team and send a message. I’m sure I am gushing fan girl mania but I don’t care. This is fantastic!
In retrospect, I realize his was nuts since I hadn’t been on skates in my adult life. At all! For some reason I had this delusion that I would be able to pick up where my 10 year old self had left off and just skate. Did I mention that I was forty-something. Like, not even the first half of my forties. I’m not sure where that confidence even came from. I certainly didn’t have any experiences to base it on. But irrational doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing does it?
I got a reply that day and an invitation to observe a practice. I was elated! So much so that I went to several sporting goods stores (in January, mind you) until I found a lone pair of sad little roller skates. They were white with purple trim, ankle boot style. Purple plastic wheels with matching purple laces topped off the Shirley Temple vibe. They were definitely NOT roller derby skates, despite the bold pronouncement printed in curly script on the label. I knew nothing about skates otherwise I would have known that $35 was about $34 too much to pay for them. But! I had wheels for my feet and a hardwood floor to try them on. I was unstoppable!
I brought the skates home and immediately started skating through my apartment. I nearly brained myself several times but I didn’t fall and for some reason that was enough to bolster my ridiculous certainty that I could do this derby thing.
A few weeks later I finally met the team and observed a practice. At the time, the Angels were a handful of girls who had been skating together for about a year. Some were good. Some were really good. They were all friendly and seemed genuinely glad I was there. They let me stand in the center of the track while they worked on the 27/5, (skating 27 laps in front CR minutes) and I was hooked.
This is how my derby love started. I finally got an honest-to- goodness pair of roller derby skates, along with helmet, pads, and mouth guard and soon I was on the track with some amazing women learning how to skate again. It hasn’t been an easy roll. I’ve had my challenges and disappointments, but I’ve been lucky, too. Derby has been there waiting for me to work through my challenges, celebrating my little victories with me.
I have a goal. It hasn’t changed although my timeline has been adjusted a few times. I want to be on the track, with my team, playing this amazing game called roller derby. I’m forty nine. I will be fifty in November 2018 and I have promised myself a pair of red and black sequined booty shorts when I pass to scrimmage eligible status. I want to be able to wear those shorts by my fiftieth birthday. Wish me luck!