I went to my first roller derby practice in 2009. A friend had mentioned it to me a few months previous and we’d gone and had a peek at a practice at Meadowbank. It seemed like this exciting new thing that might be for people like us and I pored over their MySpace page looking for info. Eventually I rocked up to a session at the Jack Kane centre, on my own, armed with a pair of cheap skates and some kiddie pads. No fresh meat in those days, some poor person was taken out of practice to pootle round the track with me, then when I didn’t immediately break anything I was just expected to join in with the session – including a relay race and 180 knee turns. The whole thing was pretty scary and stressful and painful and then I came outside to find my bike lights had been stolen. I cried a lot of the way home. It wouldn’t be the last time.
Six years later and I can safely say that roller derby, and specifically ARRG, has changed me, and my life. I love this sport so much, it has made me a better person and introduced me to some of the most wonderful people I’ve known; it also broke my leg, and, at points, has broken my heart, my spirit. It’s the only thing I’ve ever stuck to. I played in a game the day before my mum died, wondering if I’d just said goodbye to her, yet sometimes the thought of practice is so overwhelming I can barely move let alone leave the house. It makes me feel simultaneously so fucking amazing and shit about myself.
Coming back from a broken bone was fine, scary but fine. But after my mum died and everything else in my life fell apart, that was harder. I’d lost my foundations, my confidence, my drive. I couldn’t cope with the pressure. Roller derby is a constant journey, an emotional and personal one. Sometimes, it gets too much. I discovered I wasn’t as stoic as I thought, I suddenly had all this fragility, this anxiety. (Well, it had always been there, it just finally bubbled to the surface and didn’t go back down again.) Maybe I should have had a proper break, but I just stepped back a bit, removed myself from the pressure and tried to just enjoy it again. I guess I still needed it, but my attendance dipped, my skill level dropped, my confidence – already shaky – wavered then deserted me. But roller derby and ARRG – they were still there.
I’m not sure what changed. Well – life had got better, slowly but wonderfully. I had got better. Then suddenly my attendance was up, and I was feeling better about myself, and about my skating. I guess I wasn’t the only one who noticed, as I got offered a spot on the All Star Roster for this quarter. I couldn’t believe it. I thought about not accepting: surely I wasn’t good enough. Besides, I’m happy being on the AS Reserves, proud to be voted in as captain, keen to help make it the best team it can be (and it will be amazing).
My mum used to come to every game I was in, she was so proud of me playing this weird sport. No matter how ridiculous I thought I looked or how many mistakes I made – she didn’t notice that, she just saw me trying hard doing something I loved. Thirty-odd years before she sat watching me try to get my Brownie swimming badge, and failing – three times. She took me to tap class, and watched me have the time of my life, while getting everything wrong (“well, you weren’t a natural.”)
I want to go back to those times. I’m going to keep trying, keep pushing myself. I’m going to try to not worry about how I look or what mistakes I make or how much better everyone else is. It won’t be easy and I will probably need to have a few stern chats with myself along the way. And, if I fail, I fail. I’ll have tried, and I will be doing so with an amazing and inspiring group of women, and I’ll have lots of cool stories for my nieces and nephews.
So here I am, sitting moving a bag of frozen peas and a hot water bottle around my body, feeling excited for what’s to come. Bring it!