I hope you’re ready for a long post, because there’s a lot I need to get out of my head!
On the 3rd June 2013, a year ago today, a friend persuaded a group of us to go along to our local Roller Derby league, The Norfolk Brawds, Fresh Meat training night.
I was 34 years old and hadn’t worn a pair of roller skates of any kind for about 15 years. I spent the day looking for the perfect Roller Derby outfit, that would make me look cool, but not too try hard, realised I didn’t own anything like that and wore running capris and a striped T shirt, oh, and a padded bra, I soon stopped doing that. I was nervous, but I was with friends, so it was ok. I had to leave an hour early, but by the time I left I was hooked. I was amazed that standing up on skates didn’t seem to be a problem, and convinced I basically had Roller Derby nailed due to my astonishing ability to fall to the floor on both knees.
The following week I went back, with a twinge in my thigh that has started while running, and within 10 minutes it was all ice packs and tears as I tried one of my super power knee falls and killed my thigh muscle.
Still where would I be if I let a little searing pain put me off? 2 weeks later I was back in those rental skates, and a month after that I spent every penny I owned on new skates that made me feel like I was starting all over again.
I’ll be honest, I’m not really very good at trying. If I don’t get something straight away I’m one of lifes quitters. I don’t like to feel stupid, or bad at stuff, but the support and encouragement from the coaches and how amazing it felt to be trying and learning taught me patience and perseverance. I’ve worked, and I’ve worked at this. Since that first month I haven’t missed a session if I didn’t really have to.
Through personal stresses, work traumas, injury, hangovers, jet lag, bad days and good days, I went to practice. I made new friends, I loved my old friends even more. I got angry and frustrated when I just COULDN’T get a skill, I cried when I was tired and didn’t feel like I was making any progress, I got excited when my team won, I got involved with the admin and organisation side of the league, I discovered things about myself I never knew and I developed solid thighs and a perter bum (apparently).
I’ve never worked so hard on anything I was supposed to be doing for “fun”. I watched Roller Derby videos, read Roller Derby blogs, looked on Roller Derby forums for tips. I spent all my money on wheels and bearings, I went to social skates for more practice, I got sports kit for Christmas instead of shoes, I read the rules in bed and learnt visualisation techniques to try and get me through those skills.
I reassured friends who felt like they weren’t making any progress when I could see they were, I went home and cried when other people seemed so confident in their own progress, and I couldn’t see it in myself, and I marvelled at the impossible skills of the A team skaters who’d been doing this for years.
Then on Saturday, just under a year after I tentatively strapped on those rental skates, I found myself in a position to be potentially facing my final Minimum Skills sign offs.
I don’t do well under the pressure of sign off sessions. I mentioned I don’t like to be bad at things. Well tell me I’m being tested and I fall to pieces. I want to do the best I can, not just well enough. It’s all my own pressure, but it’s hard to deal with and I get panic attacks, weakness, blurred vision and a whole host of other physical symptoms. I’ve been working on visualisations, breathing techniques and all sorts to keep it under control. I hate myself at sign off sessions. I’m that girl who’s freaking out and sitting in the corner hyperventilating and telling everyone she can’t do it. I hate being that girl, but I can’t get it under control.
Sign offs had been over 2 weeks, and the previous week I’d got a lot of ticks, including some hard stuff I wasn’t expecting like positional blocking and hits at speed. I’d practised like hell on the other stuff, including 360 transitions (spin round in a circle on skates!), which I’d been working on for months, literally, with what felt like no progress, but started to click just the day before.
We did a bit of positional blocking practice, and frankly I sucked, I couldn’t make anyone stop.I had no power in my legs because I was so stressed. That threw me completely as I’d already been signed off on that, so it knocked my confidence a little more.
3 Backwards laps in a minute I’d freaked out trying to practice a few days earlier. I made it, though it was sheer force of will that kept me on my feet for that last lap as I started shaking so hard I could actually feel my head wobbling. I’ve never felt anything like it. I felt like one of those wobbly dolls with their heads on springs, I could feel the vibrations all up my legs and down my arms, like someone had replaced all my flesh with blancmange
By some kind of miracle I also got signed off on 360 transitions. I still have a LOT of practice to do on those, as they had literally only clicked with me the day before sign offs, but still, here I was.
The only thing I had left to pass was a skill that had been my nemesis since Level 1. 27 laps in 5 minutes. It’s not that I can’t skate fast, it’s the pressure of knowing I’m being timed. My legs turn to jelly, I forget my breathing and I fall to pieces. My previous best was 26.5 laps. This time I turned to Kenny Rogers “The Gambler” to help me through it, repeatedly singing the chorus to myself over and over, sometimes out loud. It helped me concentrate, keep pace, and control my breathing. At 26 1/4 laps I fell over. I tried to get back up and stumbled. I heard the time keeper shout 10 seconds remaining and I got up and *sprinted* round the last 3/4 lap, passing my lap counter (thanks Cruel Runnings!) at exactly 5 minutes.
After a million years of waiting we were called over and I was told I’d passed everything. I was the only one that did, and honestly, I’m surprised, as there were at least 2 other girls there that I know should have passed, and I feel sure are just as good at the skills they didn’t get as I am. It makes me nervous that my performance was a fluke.
Still, a year after I first strapped on those skates I was back at the Fresh Meat session last night, but this time I was helping to coach the brand new skaters who’d just arrived. Demonstrating those skills I started learning a year ago, and it felt amazing. I loved every second of it and I feel really proud that I didn’t give up.
I still have a lot of work to do to be good enough to play the game, and even more work to keep up with our amazing A team, but I’m looking forward to putting the work in and seeing where it takes me.