“Ow Chicka Ow Ow:” Part 2 in a Series on Roller Derby

11 Jan

[Note: This is Part 2 of Hillary’s guest series.  Enjoy!]
Although derby had been lurking in my life for years, I certainly got a push when I spent a summer working on campus and needed something to do. A few weeks into my devotion to The-Holy-Bored, I got a message from a friend saying the Hellions of Troy roller derby team was tabling downtown.

I started getting ready to leave my dorm, but was I really ready? I took a quick glance out my window at the beautiful view of an adjacent brick building and decided: Now was the definitely the time to get my ass in gear. As the Hellions signature pink and green colors (a pallet that would later dictate my entire wardrobe) came into view, it started to feel like a blind date. I anxiously entered the tent and picked up a season flyer with as much nonchalance I could muster… which was very little.
“Hey! Are you interested in being a part of roller derby?”
I can’t remember which player posed the question.
YES, PLEASE TAKE ME WITH YOU!, I thought. But after my brain intercepted this message, my mouth spoke about how I was considering the fresh meat program. I was told I could carpool with some of the team to see a practice. It was that opportunity and the team’s insane hospitality that brings us back up to where I last left you.
Days later I stood shaking on the wooden floor of the roller rink in a coordinated outfit of team colors. I also wore my contacts and had applied some fierce eye makeup. Although my hot look made me appear sure of myself, I was the furthest from confident about my immediate future. Sure, I had roller skated before and been an avid ice hockey player, but my athletic peak also took place during the height of Pokemon and pogs.
How hard could it be, really? I took my first glide onto the rink and to much surprise, it was a pretty smooth ride. When I shifted my weight to push with the other foot however, I felt the earth move under my feet (And NOT in a fun and funky disco way). I had absolutely no balance. I must’ve left it in my purse with my lip-gloss and dignity. After meeting the floor personally a couple of times, I decided to take our relationship to the next level. I attempted cross-overs, plow stops, t- stops and other various basic skills, and slowly realized: This shit be hard, bro.
This was a unique experience to me. I take pride in being a stubborn perfectionist. It had been years since I had discovered something I wasn’t good at; till then I had selected all of my hobbies and interests through a strictly Darwinist perspective. Survival of the fittest, if you will. If something didn’t come easy, I’d quit. Skating was in no way easy. I couldn’t bear the constant aches in my back from derby stance: a position identical to that part in wacky movies where someone hides under a sheet in a new house and pretends to be a chair. My makeup was also melting down my face from all of the sweat – but I’d have to say the worst thing about my first practice was the falling.
When you’re a fresh meat skater in derby, you obviously don’t have all your gear yet. Pads, helmet, skates and the like tend to cost hundreds of dollars, and it’s best to test drive the sport before you decide to invest. And what does no pads mean? That’s right, loyal readers! No pads means that when you fall, there’s nothing between your body and the solid wood floor when contact is made. Reunited and it feels so good – but again, not in a fun disco way. I was constantly reuniting with the rink floor, expanding my repertoire of injuries rather quickly in my first night of practice: rink rash, double bruises, triple bruises, and landing on your own skate, which is always a crowd pleaser. After the carnage, practice was finally over.
As I trotted off the rink onto the carpet, I had to focus the energy normally devoted to lifting my legs to not crying. My face was hot and I couldn’t tell if tears were actually pushing out, or if it was just sweat cascading down my eyes. I plopped down and started untying the rental skates that had been a painful extension of my body for the last two hours of my life. Why can’t I control you? I thought. Why can’t you just work like my feet? It frustrated me that my skates had moved as a separate entity that night. My entire life, I have always had issues with control – in fact, I think a lot of women do. Whenever a decision is made for us or something is taken away, it’s heartbreaking. And unfortunately my feelings were always gas lighted by someone reciting, “Well life isn’t fair.”  While there is some truth in that statement, I prefer my own version: If life isn’t fair, change it.
As I stared at my skates back on that summer night, I lacked the profound insight I have now. I felt defeated, exhausted and even mad at the evil wheels I strapped to my feet. It was then I realized I should probably stop scowling at my skates in silence. I wanted to appear at least somewhat socially adequate to the Hellions to make up for the shit show on ice (or rink, rather) they had just witnessed me display. I packed up my stuff and said my goodbyes. At this point I had devised a plan; I was going to practice skating the whole summer and then join the new meat class in the fall. Yeah, that’s it. Denying and rationalizing like a pro since 1994.
As I brought my sweaty and exhausted body out into the clean air of that summer night, a now team-mate in front of me abruptly turned and said something that would alter my derby career and life completely:
“You’re coming back tomorrow, right?”

Hillary with Short Temper

It was Short Temper, league manager and BFF extraordinaire. My poker face must have rubbed off on the floor of the rink because she took my gaping pause to widen her smile and repeat,
“You’re coming back….You’re coming back!”
I smiled as best as I could and nodded to make her go away. At the time, I didn’t know why they all loved derby. Sure, a lot of people think of the blocking, the fishnets and the funny names, but derby is so much more than that. I was at the lowest point in my life (so far, woohoo!) that night. I had no one but myself, and I was faltering. I was beating myself up for trying something I should’ve known I couldn’t do. But here’s the miracle; I was the only one that was telling myself that. Every time I fell a player would chirp, “Good fall, get back up!” Every time I’d do something stupid, they’d offer support and advice. And when I tried to quit, Short brought me back. She had no idea, but her simple statement has stayed with me to this day.
Its moments like these that act like your shock paddles in life. No matter how crap-tasmic things continue to get, as long as we hold on to those moments they’ll bring us back to life and make our heart feel like beating again. And so, despite one hell of a practice, I had my pulse. I couldn’t deny that skating was the closest I’d ever felt to flying. It was scary and exhilarating all at once. I decided to give it one more try and go to the next night’s practice. As Douglas Adams (one very cool, intergalactic dude) said, “Flying is learning how to through yourself at the ground and miss.” I was ready to fly, but I had to learn how to miss.

One more try, Hill. One more night.


3 Responses to ““Ow Chicka Ow Ow:” Part 2 in a Series on Roller Derby”

  1. thoroughly modern milli vanilli January 11, 2012 at 1:43 pm #

    Great post, Hillary!

    How’s the pink and green mixing with all the yellow in your wardrobe? 😉


    • Hillary January 11, 2012 at 2:51 pm #

      Honestly, Dani, it’s taken over! 😀
      I was shopping for internship (“professional”) clothing and I found myself holding a lot of pink…. hmmm. But no worries, I have so much yellow stocked up that I don’t think it can be matched by any other color!


  2. Short Temper January 11, 2012 at 3:20 pm #

    And the rest is herstory! So glad you decided to stick around and have fun with us throughout the summer! You’re hilarious, smart, and silly – a true Hellion. ❤

    I also wanted you to come back because I liked looking at your orange glasses.

    So glad you used that picture. Pricless.

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