Before my first day of roller derby boot camp even started, I wanted to bail. All my pent up excitement leading up to that day disappeared and suddenly I had every reason not to go. If I stayed home, I wouldn’t have to deal with being the awkward and friendless newbie. I could avoid the embarrassment of falling on my face in front of every natural athlete in the room. Or I could take the day to compose myself and surely feel better for the next week. Maybe even finally get around to that one thing.
Eventually, I resigned myself to the fact that I already paid for the damn boot camp and it would be a waste not to go. The drive to the rink was made unpleasant by a lingering cloud of doubt and regret. But every negative thought was completely erased over the next two hours. I finished that first class feeling accomplished and eager. I’m not an avid selfie-taker, but I was so happy I wanted to document the occasion. Consider all those horrible feelings I had blocking up my head, then look at how big and stupid that smile is.
It’s been a little over a year since that day and I’m still grateful that I forced myself into going. I’ve learned a lot since then. Not just about how to skate or play roller derby, but (get ready to gag) a lot about myself. Like any other hobby, there are lessons in roller derby that can be applied to life on a broader scale. Here are five of them.
1. Anyone can play.
In some sports, there seems to be a general body type for the participating athletes. Think about the build of a football player. Or a gymnast. This doesn’t apply at all to roller derby. There are small girls, big ones, and every size in between. Even then, it doesn’t mean anything. Some of the fastest jammers I’ve watched are fabulously curvy. And there are tiny girls with devastating booty blocks. Dudes, worry not. There’s a place for you on the track with men’s leagues and co-ed leagues. There’s room for apples, pears, nuts, or whatever food you identify with. The roller derby community is among the most open-armed, no-questions-asked groups you could join. There are mothers, engineers, bartenders, graphic designers, HR reps, whovians, yogis, and every possible combination of lifestyles you can think of. You’ll never have to worry about being different, because everyone in derby has a different, often interesting, story.
2. If you ‘gon ride. You ‘gon fall.
A safe-for-work paraphrase of Kat Williams talking about motorcycles, but still applicable to roller derby. A lot of the fear of getting into roller derby is tripping over your own feet, falling on your ass, and otherwise suddenly finding yourself saying hello to the floor. But part of getting better is realizing that falling is just part of it. Sometimes veteran derby girls lose their balance in the middle of doing absolutely nothing. In the same light, even the most elite ice skaters on the planet botch routines that they’ve practiced for years. You will fall. But you will get up. And If find yourself unable to get back on your feet on your own, I guarantee a league-mate (or three) will be there to help you. The falling never really stops. It just becomes less of a big deal when it happens. You may forever remember the first few times you totally eat it. But hang in there and you’ll get to a point where you just pop up and keep going like nothing happened.
3. Just do you.
When you’re in a training setting with the same group of people every week, it’s hard not to compare progress. It might hurt a little when you get lapped during the 27 in 5 by a girl who started skating the same day as you. But don’t let that overshadow the fact that you’ve gotten 5 more laps in than last time. If you feel down after watching someone do a perfect plow stop on their second day of boot camp, just focus on how far you’ve come from being a newborn giraffe on ice. Even though roller derby is a team sport, it can also be a very personal adventure. Don’t compare paths. Appreciate the grind of the journey and celebrate your own successes. No matter what, be your biggest fan.
4. There is one goal and one goal only.
Legal blocking zones. Cutting the track. Staying low. Starting line strategies. Sometimes, it seems like the more you learn about roller derby, the less you actually know about it. To keep yourself from getting completely overwhelmed, know that there’s really only one objective for you to chase. Be a little better than last time. Even if you’re learning new strategy every practice, challenge yourself to improve on one thing each time. Try only using plow stops until you can stop before you fly off the track. Finally nailed the turn around toe stop? Master your other leg. See just how deep you can make your crossovers during warm ups. Over time, some things will click and suddenly make sense. Others will take you what seems like forever. But a few days of practice to get something right is more productive than kicking yourself for not perfecting a move in a single night. See yourself through one day at a time and you’ll soon be able to look back on how far you’ve come.
5. You are stronger than you think.
Strapping on skates and stepping onto the track isn’t easy. But it’s also not as hard as you might think. Countless girls who have watched roller derby think, “That looks awesome, but I’m not tough enough for that.” The truth is, you are. There’s probably a tough cookie inside of you, begging for permission to speed round the track with a fierce expression. All you have to do is say yes. I promise no growling blocker will slam you into a wall on day one. Boot camp is there to build your skating skills before you even make contact with someone else. Beyond boot camp, you’ll progress at your own pace. The only person who can push you past your limit is yourself. Just know that behind every veteran player is hours and hours of building up the strength to give and take big hits. That player can be you. Just start and stick with it.
It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with roller derby. Even though work, travel, and stress sometimes get in the way, I always find myself driving back to the rink. Once in a while, I still have to force myself to pick up my skate bag. But not one time have I ever regretted it. Roller Derby is a sport where you can push your own boundaries physically and mentally. Which in turn gives you an eye for your growth as a person off the track. Everyone has their own reasons for joining their local league and everyone gets something different out of their experience. After a few practices, you may find that you don’t mind learning things the hard way.