“This is either the best idea or the worst idea.” What could only be described as my life mantra circulated through my head as I stepped into the dull buzz of the florescent lights of the old gymnasium. I could count on one hand the number of times I’d been on skates in my life-with one of those times resulting in sprained and tore tendons and ligaments. Yet there I stood, hands shaking as I filled out a new skater application, new skates and gear at my feet, and the most wonderful mix of adrenaline and pride. There wasn’t a specific reason I was there beyond it felt right, it felt like something I needed to do for myself; it felt right in my heart even if my head was still unsure of this new decision. So there I was, trying out for a sport I wasn’t inherently good at and feeling a world apart from anyone in the building with me.
For the most part I’d gotten by in life by just cruising. Throughout my educational career I’d been able to coast on through, never giving much effort until university but even then I was able to coast far more than I should have. Academics came naturally to me, as did teaching, as did archery, as did training animals. I was not, however, inherently good at skating. Skates were, more or less, a handcuff-you-in mixture of leather, plastic, and metal all precariously balanced upon eight narrow wheels neatly arranged in pairs. When starting derby, and to this day, I have to give all my efforts as I only get out of each training what I put in. Derby has required me to struggle through learning, something I never had to do before. It’s brought me to tears of frustration but it’s also give me great moments of triumph and the satisfaction one can only feel after working tirelessly to accomplish a goal. I’m so grateful for the struggle, it’s allowed me to connect with the students I teach so much more. Derby enabled me to feel the emotions they go through when struggling through school, in turn allowing me to rethink how I approach these teaching challenges; I have more patience and a deeper understanding that sometimes the struggle is necessary in order to truly learn-methods can be taught but answers can not simply be given.
Through the struggle of learning to skate and learning to play this truly amazing sport I also began to repair a much damaged relationship with my Mom. When I first bought my skates and stood, knocked kneed and wobbling, on her rather large, perfect for practicing skating, cement patio she had to stifle a laugh at the idea of me skating. Doubtful that I’d go far was an understatement and unsupportive was the best way to describe her indifference. This lack of support was not new to me, it was only a small part of a much more complex knot of un-battled demons between us. What I didn’t realize then is how all of that would change. Her eyes barely left the pages of her book when I told her I had completed the new skater boot camp-a major accomplishment at the time given my bambi-on-ice ability when I started. My first bout came and she only agreed to go because I had given her tickets. All it took was one bout for her to get hooked. She fell in love with the sport and obtained instant admiration for the athletic abilities of the skaters. Derby became the common ground we needed to build a bond again, something I couldn’t be more grateful for. Talking about the game, reading the rules, talking about strategies, and watching bouts became the road the opened a line of communication. The words “I’m proud” are rarely heard from my Mom, but she needn’t say it as she attends every game I skate in, wearing her sailor shirt she had custom done, complete with my number on the back, she had done in support of my home team, the Shipwreckers.
While I might not have had the support of my Mom at first, especially during bootcamp, I can’t say I didn’t have any support. I may have started derby alone, however, I’m anything but now. Roller Derby is its own subculture and community, though I don’t think many realize just how much of one it is-or how tightly knit the community is. Think of your favorite childhood blanket. You know the one; it was the perfect size, soft and warm, and the familiar smell and feeling of comfort, of home. That is the derby community-the girls, new skaters and veteran skaters, no matter the league or type of track, welcome you, embrace you, and envelope you into their world and life. They become your family. The wonderful group of ladies I did my new skater/new blood camp with were one of the best support systems from the minute I had my skates at that very first try out day. I can still fall back on any of those ladies in times of need-even if the problem isn’t directly derby related. I was drafted into the Shipwreckers, where I met the ladies that would become not just my closest derby family members, but some of my closest friends and a true chosen family. It’s an incredible feeling to be a part of something so special, something that does so much for women, on a local and global level.
Derby isn’t just something I do, it’s not the hobby I replaced watching tv with, it’s become a life and lifestyle for me. I can’t imagine not skating, and when the day comes that I retire (if the day ever comes), I will forever be grateful that I had that best idea to try out that day, that my head finally agrees with my heart, and that I got to be a part of something so remarkable.
Visit my fundraising roller derby show at Eye Lounge at 5th Street and Roosevelt
and go to the fundraising website to donate in the fight against cancer
Help Wil Munny Save Some Boobies