So, while people have been flocking to the shore on their Saturdays, trying to soak up some beach and sun, I’ve been throwing on knee pads and wrist guards and borrowed skates and looping around in infinite circles at the skating rink where I grew up taking lessons and attending birthday parties.
I decided about a month ago I would try out for roller derby, much to the chagrin of most of my family and befuddlement of many friends.
To be accurate, I will be trying out for derby for the 2nd time. The first time didn’t go so well. Mainly because I had no idea what derby really entailed and when I heard “you just have to be able to skate,” I thought being able to circle the rink was enough. I was wrong, and I had to admit to my very ignorant assumption to a rink filled with girls who had already figured this out months and years before me (well, at least 2/3rds of them had… I think the rest were in the same boat as me).
After that rather humbling experience, I hung up my proverbial skates, and tried to shrug the whole thing off a “welp, at least I tried” experience. But the whole thing kept nagging at me–because the truth was, I hadn’t tried. Not really. I didn’t prepare, didn’t take it seriously. Didn’t exert any effort beyond going to one open skate and then getting myself to the tryout. And once I realized how much more needed to be done, I opted to simply not do anything else at all.
Fast forward about a year and a half. I see a FB invite for a round of tryouts for the S. Jersey derby team, which happens to practice right down the street from my parents’ house, where we just happen to be living this summer. It also just so happens a friend of mine joined the team a few month’s back. Kismet? Maybe… I decided to text her t let her know I was interested and to feel her out about her experience thus far.
I was a little worried when I didn’t hear anything back right away, then confused when I heard my phone go off numerous times in a row, indicating I had several new text messages. If I had any doubts about checking it out before, they were instantly quashed by Ali’s overwhelming excitement. Of course I had the same questions/fears that I’ve been met with when I tell people about my intentions: Do you have to know about the sport? (Not off the bat–they will teach you. But in order to actually participate in a bout, you need to know your shit) What if you’ve never played? (They’re expecting that! And this league is willing to teach!) Do you get to come up with a cool name? (Yes. And I have… but I’ll wait to see when/if I get rostered to officially reveal that ;)) And above all: But won’t you get hurt? (Yes, injury is a possibility. Like any sport, some get bumps/bruises, some get breaks… It can certainly be dangerous, but by all accounts, it can also be incredibly rewarding).
And since then, I’ve been skating on Saturdays and looking up derby-related stuff in my spare (haha) time–trying to get a better gauge on the rules, on the girls who play, on the lifestyle. I already feel like I’ve learned a lot–from the basic rules to the game to the personal stories of redemption that girls have shared online, each one different, each one saying the same thing: “derby saved my life.”
I had someone ask me point-blank what the appeal for me to derby was. “Is because it’s the ‘cool’ thing to do right now? Is it a way to get rid of aggression?” That was a difficult question to answer, although the former wasn’t really part of it for me (although c’mon, it *is* pretty cool to say you’re a derby grrrl), and maybe there’s a little bit of appeal of being able to blow off steam while playing a full-contact sport. But there’s more to it than that…
Maybe I’m looking for derby to save me, too–mainly from myself. There’s a lot that goes on in my head. All the time. Every day. Practically every minute. Sometimes, it gets to the point where it’s exhausting, sometimes overwhelming. I think and think and overthink: I drown in my thoughts and my worries. And although I do believe life is beautiful and every day is a new opportunity to learn and advance and grow and love and laugh, sometimes the push-and-pull of all that living gets to me. Sometimes putting it all in perspective can get tough and the complicated and not-so-complicated truths of the day-to-day just plain ol’ get me down. But I have found that when I strap on skates and gear up, I’m able to let the world slip away for a few hours. My focus remains steady on my crossovers, and how much speed I’m able to get as I loop the track, and my determination to finally ace a T-stop or a snow plow. It enables me an opportunity to retrace the steps (or skate paths) of my childhood–to go to one of the few places from that time that remains untouched–that roller rink down the street from my parents’ house–and to skate and skate and skate while the disco lights sparkle promise over their dusty walls and the bass from the Top 40 hits shakes the cobwebs off my dusty dreams, allowing me to believe that maybe life ain’t so hard to figure out after all.