i have adventures (sometimes)

Sunday, 30 March 2014

I Guess I'm a Derby Girl Now

17:38 Posted by Ali , , No comments
It's hard to know where to start when talking about roller derby. So let's start with my first time on skates.

Wheels, wat r u doin. Wheels, stahp.
No, before that.

Last year, I went to watch my first roller derby bout. Dasia explained the rules to me - and I mapped them onto Quidditch rules so that I could understand them* - and told me which team to cheer for, and I was hooked.

And I decided immediately that I would never ever be as cool as derby girls.

Shortly after I watched my second bout, the Jo'burg league put out a call for new skaters, and I decided, cool or not (hint: not) that I was just going to have to give it a try.

I went very tentatively to my first open skate, trying to commit to nothing, knowing that committing to anything would see me suddenly throwing a lot of time, money and driving distance into a hobby I didn't even know I would like. But derby has a way of sucking you in, and before I knew it I'd bought my own pair of skates and a whole lot of protective gear, and conducted a dodgy deal in a Pretoria carpark for an XXL helmet**, and really, after spending that much, I was just going to have to be committed.

Brand new skates!
The biggest helmet ever?
But it was never value for money that kept me going back. For the first time in probably forever, I'd found a sport that I liked. It wasn't that I didn't like exercise, but my whole experience of sportsing to that point had been school sport, which mainly meant it being compulsory to run around in the sun a lot. And that was never ever going to be my thing. Roller derby, on the other hand, turned out to be something totally new.

I've been skating for five months now, and I go through my ups and downs with it. Largely because - and I'm not being overly self-deprecating when I say this - I'm just not very good. I've never been athletic, and it would be surprising if I suddenly put on skates and turned out to be amazing. It's been an interesting challenge to stick with something I'm not good at, because I usually refuse to play games I don't win (this is why I don't play chess). It's an amazing sense of accomplishment to actually stick with something and get better at it. Passing my fresh meat exam with the rest of the class felt amazing, because right up until it happened, I wasn't sure I would make it through.

Nervous freshies - pre-exam.
But even during the exam, there was the satisfaction of doing skills (even if barely adequately) that I knew I hadn't been able to do months or weeks before. I'm fitter and faster and stronger than I was when I started, and that's awesome.

Tired but accomplished rookies - post-exam!
I'm now a rookie, the intermediate level (they very sensibly didn't let us do any contact until they'd checked we could basically stay on our skates most of the time). I'm struggling, but no matter how grumpy and frustrated I sometimes get, I know that it's something worth sticking with. That might not always be the case - people leave derby for a lot of different reasons, and maybe one day I will too - but for now it's good for me, and it's where I want to be even when, well, I don't feel like I want to be there.

"I propose we all go home and have a nap. Anyone? No?" (Photo by Rosanna Scott.)
It's helped me feel stronger and more confident in myself. It's inspired me to get fitter. It's reminded me that my body is more than what it looks like - what's more exciting is what it can do. I spent many years at war with food (as most women do), and it's a major mindset shift for me not to see food as something I need to burn off with exercise, but as something my body needs to be maximally awesome at the sport I want to do. It's not a brand new realisation for me, but it's definitely something that derby's helped to drive home.

And no, I don't love it all the time. At the moment, in fact, I'm feeling a bit low and uninspired, and I sometimes have to convince myself to drive all the way to practice and put myself through the tiredness and frustration that come with being not quite fit enough or good enough to find it easy.

But I keep going anyway. And I'm pretty proud of that.

Rather less pristine; much more mine.
My love for derby may not be at its peak, but after only a few months, it occupies a huge space in my heart. And I plan to keep on trying and keep on improving at my own pace, even when that pace seems to be much slower than everyone else's.

So I guess I'm a derby girl now. It's not what I pictured, because I'm not very intimidating and I'm not yet tattooed and I'm definitely still not cool and I don't even own any interesting tights, but it turns out they let you keep coming back anyway.

And that's pretty great.

Staring intimidatingly at walls. (Photo by Rosanna Scott.)
**Fun fact: I'm a medium now. As in my hair made my head three sizes bigger - not as in it was blocking my psychic abilities.


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