Rolling Around and Smashing Into People

It’s more than a little embarrassing to admit it, but when I first started doing it, I was largely ignorant of how roller derby actually, y’know, worked. I could count on one hand the number of times I’d even gone rollerskating, never mind playing derby as a sport, but for some reason, I got it in my head that it’d be a fun time.

See, there’s a lot to know about derby–enough that I’m still learning, and will likely never stop learning–but I knew less-than-nothing about it a year ago. I actually wrote about my first day of derby on my main blog, and, behold! My ignorance back then:

I’m not sure what grabbed me about the notion of trying this sport. Until taking up Wushu in 2003, I had never been anything resembling an athlete. Even after taking up Wushu, I wasn’t a natural at physical pursuits, and spent a lot of time feeling like a hulking mass of clumsy. My limited knowledge of roller derby largely amounted to this: derby involves skating around a track, and slamming into your competitors. I still haven’t actually seen a derby bout, not even in the movies. (note: I have since added Whip It! to my Netflix queue)

For some reason, in spite of all that, I thought to myself, “rolling around and smashing into people? I’d be awesome at that! Let’s try it!”

(yes, derby ladies reading this, I can hear you collectively facepalming from here.)

So, yeah. I’d basically convinced myself that, because genetics gave me broad shoulders and big bones, wushu had given me large lady-muscles, I’d be a fantastic derby player. I was reasonably fit, having done martial arts for over 6 years, and I figured I could flail my way through most physical pursuits, so hey, why not derby?

That? Was a huge and incredibly wrong assumption. In the first few weeks of derby, I quickly learned that:

  1. Knowing how to skate fast is important, sure, but knowing how to stop is even moreso.
  2. Sweet merciful crap, my balance is terrible!
  3. Being big can help you, but every body type has its advantages in derby.
  4. I really need to learn how to be louder. Tiny Introvert Voice is no good for communicating on the track.
  5. Keeping track of what happens in the pack is tough at first, and keeping track of that when you’re in the pack is even tougher.
  6. Being a lone wolf and playing derby are two things that don’t exactly go together.
  7. Derby is the kind of thing that easily goes from being a mere hobby to an all-out lifestyle.

There are probably a thousand other lessons that I could rattle off, and another billion that other more-experienced-than-me skaters have learned. Roller derby has layer upon layer of challenges, physical, mental, and emotional.

Still, I’m pretty grateful for that last point: the derby itch was something I wanted to scratch badly enough that I tried out for Fresh Meat, stuck with it even when I wanted to scream and cry in frustration, came back to it after a knee injury, and eventually quit wushu so I could focus on it. Every once in a while, one of my hare-brained ideas turns out to be a good one, and I’m glad I was right this time.


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