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:
- Knowing how to skate fast is important, sure, but knowing how to stop is even moreso.
- Sweet merciful crap, my balance is terrible!
- Being big can help you, but every body type has its advantages in derby.
- I really need to learn how to be louder. Tiny Introvert Voice is no good for communicating on the track.
- 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.
- Being a lone wolf and playing derby are two things that don’t exactly go together.
- 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.