How Much Difference A Year Makes

Last Friday was my first derbyversary. I have mixed feelings about this, as many people do about birthdays as they get older. On one hand I’m grateful to have all of the things I have because of this last year – but on the other, I feel disappointed that I haven’t achieved more.

I could go on for a while about how frustrated and ashamed I am because of how far I haven’t gotten in a year, but what would be the point? I cannot change it. It’s out of my control. The only thing I can do is keep focussed and keep pushing myself towards where I want to be.

So on this derbyversary, I will be grateful.

Derby has changed my life.

Never before have I enjoyed sports or craved exercise. Through derby I found a pilot light, and even though sometimes when I have a bad day, I think about going to training and I get a pathetic flick-flick-flick – I just have to keep pushing the button, and once I get started the flame just takes off. At the end of the session I always want to keep my skates on and keep moving my body.  When I go for a skate in the morning, my legs feel strong and powerful in the afternoon.

Derby has challenged me not only physically but mentally. It has challenged my very beliefs. There are ways of thinking that seemed natural to me before, ideas about possession and identity that this society has brought me up on, and that I have since realised are not healthy and are not the way things have to be.  There is still a way to go before I can let go of some things, but I like to think I’m on my way. I have shared so much with the women and men in my league, which before I would not have been willing to do.

Derby has given me a new group of friends that I would not otherwise have made. With this fresh group of people, I have been able to have a fresh start.  I haven’t reinvented myself as such – but I have given myself permission to be the person that I want to be, the person that has been trying to be heard in other areas of my life. I don’t know if the problem in other areas began with people treating me badly or with me letting them – but I decided about 9 months ago that there is no way in hell I’m going to put up with shit like that from anyone at derby. I simply will not let it start. There have only been a couple of people out of the dozens of derby people that I’ve met who have given me attitude or negativity – but now I won’t allow myself to be belittled or put down. I won’t allow anyone to talk down to me or batter my self esteem like they do in my other worlds. And you know what? It’s carrying over. Slowly but surely I am standing up for myself more often at work or with friends who don’t treat me as respectfully as my derby friends do.

I think that derby can make you a better version of yourself, if you just let it.

Happy derbday to me, and oh so many happy returns. ❤


How It All Started

I first saw Roller Derby being played by The Chicago Outfit in late 2010. I didn’t realise then that crossing roller derby off my travel to-see list would change my life. I didn’t think we even had derby in Australia, but a player called Lady K told me that Melbourne had a growing derby scene and that I should look into it.

About 3 months later, I put on some hired skates at my local rink and joined in the casual Saturday afternoon class with the obnoxious 7-year-olds. Boy oh boy can they be arseholes when they’re better than you at something! You can’t clothesline them either, because their parents are watching.
I remember thinking that if I could ever do crossovers, I would be the most graceful person in the world.
We were working on backwards scissors. I was having the hardest time – I couldn’t even believe I’d managed forwards scissors, and attempting backwards seemed impossible.
“Are you still on your first lap?” enquired one of the obnoxions.
I tried to remain positive through gritted teeth.
“Oh.” She paused between scissors with her feet neatly together. “I’m on my fourth.”

The end of the class came and I still hadn’t gotten from one end of the rink to the other without stopping. All the other little girls in the class went gracefully rolling off to their parents, who praised their skating and bought them icypoles to stave off the sweltering Melbourne Summer heat in the corrugated iron rink shed.
I stayed. I was not going to leave until I had done a full length of the rink in backwards scissors without stopping. I huffed and I puffed through the general skate, I swore under my breath and I used muscles I didn’t know I had (a feeling that would become irritatingly familiar throughout my derby progress).
Then, somehow… I did it. The instructor was at the end as I got there, and she laughed at the giant grin on my face. I held up my hands and she gave me ten.

Then I skated off and bought myself a icypole – because I deserved it.

And when I passed Star 1 level and they gave me my certificate, I was so proud that I put it on the fridge to show my Dad.

Several months of making it to class when I could, two skating star class levels, and my own pair of derby skates later, I braved my first derby development class. The casual classes that this league ran worked so much better for my busy busy life than committing to another, closer, league’s fresh meat intake. I didn’t think I could tie myself in to two or three nights a week.
After that first class, I only missed about 2 sessions in 6 months.

The first session was unbelievable. I brought my dad’s bike helmet with me then tried to hide it (and my embarrassment) when I saw the gear the league had to lend to newbies. I got a decent helmet, but I think I ended up with mismatched elbow pads on my knees. 

During the next hour I pushed myself so hard physically; harder than this sport-hating, exercise-avoiding performing arts nerd had ever gone before. The last time I’d been part of any sport was in primary school (my basketball team only won three times, coincidentally the games I didn’t play,) and here I was doing laps (laps?!) back and forth on the rink with single knee taps! I panted and sweated and hoped upon hope that my legs would keep holding me up and nobody would see how much they were shaking.

But this was derby, and derby girls don’t complain; derby girls push through and get on with it. Derby girls don’t apologise and derby girls suck it up, princess. So I put on a brave face and pushed. By the end of the lesson I’d jumped over 3inch cones (only falling on my arse once – and not even crying!) and worked on the move made so popular by Drew Barrymore, whips. I had scuffed up the toes of my derby skates – someone came running over to me with gaffer tape, but I couldn’t have been more proud.

I think it’s good to look back on where you started. Every time you get frustrated with a new skill you just can’t get, or a new level that makes you feel out of your depth, think about how far you’ve come. January 2011 me is super impressed that I can do scissors and crossovers. August 2011 me is amazed that I can be so comfortable skating in such close proximity to others. December 2011 me has a fist in the air when she sees me do a sweet plough stop, January 2012 me is stoked that I can do turn around toe stops at all and April 2012 me is pretty darn proud of how much I understand the rules of the game now. Every wall I come up against will one day just be one of those ‘me’s cheering the present day me on. And it’s nice to have so many people back there supporting me.