When I put on my first pair of roller skates a little over three years ago, I’d been recently divorced from, stalked and catfished by an emotional terrorist who simply would not stop. Bullying, berating, begging. Battered to exhaustion by his madness, I had long teetered dangerously on the edge of surrender, but I had, in the end, survived a full-on, years-long assault by a Master Manipulator. But barely. Something small inside me wanted to pick myself up and out of the ruins. But how?
By the time I put that first pair of skates on, I was out of ideas. I had tried therapy, yoga, meditation, chakra cleansing (STFU. I was desperate.). In addition to the marital PTSD, I’d lived through 5 years of debilitating illness and the sudden death of both my parents in a short time…I was simply crippled by grief and defeat. But I was also tired of feeling powerless, beaten, afraid. I laid around limply and scoured my imagination for the most outlandish precedent of female bad-assery I could conjure. And there it was: Roller Derby. DEAR GOD, I AM A FUCKING GENIUS. That I had never roller skated in my life seemed less important than the sudden, blinding flash of my own brilliance. I would do it. There was no one left to stop me.
The thing is – ROLLER SKATING IS REALLY FUCKING HARD. I was in no way prepared for how bad I would be at this. My first night on skates was an orgy of pain and humiliation that I’d never felt in my entire well-behaved, self-controlled life. I cried in front of strangers. The searing agony of fall after fall onto cold concrete was incidental. The searing agony of abject embarrassment was far worse. The women running the practice – my future soul sisters – would later tell me they were absolutely certain I’d hobble away from the track that night, never to return. But I did. I went back despite the pain and shame, and despite my heartbreaking lack of talent on roller skates. You must understand: I don’t *do* things that I don’t do very, very well. My vanity, my ego, the insistence on my own perfection do not typically indulge me with chances to make an ass of myself, particularly more than once. I credit the catastrophic structural damage my psyche had sustained for letting me slip through those ass-making cracks just this once. Because I made an ass of myself like a fucking BOSS. But, dear friends, I also saved my soul.
Because as it happens, by the time I put my first pair of skates on, I had been at war with my body for more than 30 years. I had loathed it, cursed it, dishonored and abused it. I had starved it, gorged it, purged it, damned and shamed it for most of my life. It was not thin. It was not lithe and lovely, like other girls’. It was too big. Too tall, too muscular. It was FAT. It was my life’s secret shame – my too-big body and the awful things I did to it to try and make it beautiful.
But you didn’t have to be thin or beautiful to play roller derby. And one day, shortly after that first time, I realized I was falling less. When I did fall, it was easier to get up. There was less crying. I was not so sore afterwards anymore. My body was getting stronger, more resilient. Shit, I was getting stronger and more resilient. I was less afraid, not just of skating but of EVERYTHING. Out of nowhere, I suddenly cared infinitely more about being powerful than I did about being thin. And I was proud of myself. Holy fuck. I was proud of myself.
I began to silently thank my legs for pushing me around the track lap after lap, my heart for working harder than ever before and my lungs for giving me the air I needed to fly. As my thighs grew thicker under my jeans I found myself not recoiling at their size, but rejoicing in their strength. I began to eat when I was hungry and stop when I was full. My step grew surer even in regular shoes. I gave fewer fucks. I was part of something special and I began to grasp that I, too, was something special, despite my measurements. This extraordinary new understanding – this new LIFE – was a gift from the very thing I had attempted to beat into bony submission for most of its days. The irony is not lost on me – just as I myself had narrowly escaped the clutches of an evil overlord who tried and failed to crush me, so had my body. I am ever grateful to us both for not surrendering.
In Derby, the reason you come is not always the reason you stay. You almost always find things you didn’t know you were looking for. Derby gave me strength and grit and courage. It gave me back the power that I had myself given away. It gave me sisterhood and drive and a million things that I am grateful for every single day. But Roller Derby did not really save my soul, in the end. It made me able, fearlessly and finally, to save my own.