For almost four months now, I’ve been living a bit of a double life. It was a secret at first, mostly because I didn’t want to talk about it, I wanted to just do it. Plus, a lot of people weren’t going to understand. They were going to judge me. Not that I care about that, I mean, not too much. But I didn’t want to be a poseur. I wanted to wait until I knew I was really in it. Until I was sure.
I’m not the only one who does it, and from what I understand, more and more women are doing it every day. I wanted it to be just mine, just for a little while. But people have been asking me to write about it, and as much as I liked having this secret, it’s time for me to go public, because it’s about to become very public, whether I like it or not.
I’m training to be a Derby Doll.
It looks like this:
I found my way to roller derby just like most women do, I’m sure: at a screening of Sex and the City.
I went with Dana and Allison. We met earlier for drinks, and Allison eased her way into the seat next to me, groaning. “Sorry,” she said. “I just started with the Derby Dolls last night, and I am in so much pain today.”
I geeked out immediately. “Wait, like, roller derby? You can just… do that? You don’t have to be a professional or anything?”
“A professional what?”
“I don’t know. I just thought… I always watched… when I was a kid I… you’re… they’re letting you do roller derby?”
“I’m learning, but yeah, that’s what–”
“Can I do it?”
Allison squinted. “You want to?”
“Yes! My sister and I watched roller derby growing up, and I always thought it was so cool, and I didn’t know you could just… you can just go do it?”
“They have certain times when you can start. It’s called Fresh Meat. The first class was yesterday… I think it’s the first Sunday of every month, but I could ask if you could join up with me. I really wanted someone to skate with, but all of my friends think I’m an idiot for doing this.”
Allison and I at this point were friends, but we didn’t know each other all that well. Mostly Allison would joke that she didn’t want to be my friend, because Dana was my friend, and Dana was her friend first. She said she wanted to be different, so she’d be the one in our group of friends who didn’t like me.
“I will totally go with you.”
“You want to go to Fresh Meat with me?”
Her eyebrows came together and her chin dropped in this face of complete skepticism as she said, “Pam, I feel like you are serious.”
“I am serious. What do I need to bring?”
“I HAVE a mouthguard! I have TMJ!”
And that was it. I started right away, and I was hooked from the very first practice.
It’s like I joined Fight Club.
Physically, this is the toughest thing I’ve ever put myself through. Way worse than training for the marathon. The game itself is hard on the body — really, really hard on the body — but the training is tough, too. It goes well past the practices. When I’m not at the track, I still need to train. Running and skating, squats and lunges, crunches and push-ups. And healing. Lots of attention to the process of healing.
I’ve become best friends with ice packets and hot baths. I’ve been bandaged and wrapped and developed a slight addiction to Advil. I’ve busted my wrist, my palm, my knee. My other knee. My ankles look like I’ve been held hostage by a crazy lady who wanted me to write a book for her.
I had a blood blister on my foot that lasted so long I eventually had to cut it open, drain the blood, and then rip off another layer so I could drain the blood from a blister that was trapped under the other blister. I’ve jacked up both shoulders. I’ve cut my knuckles. I’ve cut my inner elbow. I’ve got rink rash on my shoulder. My thighs looked like they were under attack. But nothing, nothing has been more painful than breaking my tailbone. There’s a story that comes along with that, but I’ll save it for another day.
Every time I accomplish something I didn’t think I could do (get on the track, skate backwards, railspin, jam in a scrimmage), there’s immediately something new I have to learn. About a week ago I finally had a practice where I didn’t get injured, nor was I nursing an existing injury. Something clicked, and my body was obeying what my brain had been trying to get it to understand for weeks. I could do stops I couldn’t do the week before. I fell the right way. I passed girls on the track. I finished laps in record time. I went home feeling like a badass. I thought about that first practice, the one where we were so exhausted afterwards, all Allison and I could do was laugh because we couldn’t move.
“Hey, I’ve never done a team sport. Like, ever.”
“This is crazy.”
“Is this what everybody else felt like in high school when they had practice?”
“Yeah, what were we doing then?”
“Shakespeare. I was going, ‘Fie, fie. Unknit that threatening, unkind brow. And dart not scornful glances–‘”
“Oh, my God. Me, too! These guys were kicking ass in sports, and I was putting Clown White on my face in a dressing room.”
But that was last week. This week I’m feeling like the worst one out there again. It’ll pass, but it’s hard not to be hard on myself.
A lot of my friends don’t understand why I’d do this. My mother is so upset she won’t even let me talk to her about it. There are some who admire it, and some who just think I’m an idiot. I understand all their points. But there’s this: when I’m out there skating, I cannot think about anything other than skating. Everything else goes away. I’ve spent a lot of time searching for that very feeling. Running doesn’t do it. Meditation actually makes me emotional (The time I cried in a temple? Again, a story for another day.). Therapy felt like I was talking in circles. Medication made me shut down. But once I push myself to the edge of destruction, and then I get back up and go home? And it turns out I’m not just okay but I’m stronger than I was yesterday? That’s amazing. Oh, and my mouthguard? It’s only for derby now. No more TMJ problems. Although one time I found blood in my mouthguard. I have to admit, I felt kinda cool. It was while I was duct taping my wristguards up because they got torn during a fall. I’m telling you: I joined Fight Club. I am Tyler Durden.
There’s a new group of Fresh Meat who have just come in. I remember how intimidated I was by the girls in Fresh Meat who’d been there months, who would come in from their scrimmages all sweaty and laughing, ready to practice suicide drills on the flat track. And now I’m one of those girls, the ones I was scared of. It’s been months now, and when Allison skates up to me in the infield to talk about her snowplows or whether or not she did a railspin at the right time, it’s like a completely different skater is coming up beside me. We no longer almost fall over simply by standing. We aren’t suffering through squats and lunges and push-ups. Our backs aren’t straining when we have to skate the track nonstop for thirty minutes.
Now we’re preparing for our first bout. The Baby Doll Brawl, October 25th. It’s Freshies vs. Freshies, and I think it’ll be just like when I worked for the Austin Ice Bats. The farm team for the IHL, the Ice Bats have a lot of heart, but a whole lot more bruises. I just got to where I felt comfortable on my skates, and now I feel like a toddler in a buffalo stampede. Last night I got so frustrated with myself. I’ve never been on any kind of athletic team before, and I’m worried about letting them down. I’m constantly feeling like someone should skate up behind me and say, “I’m sorry; but you have to go.” But then I figure out a way to pass two blockers who thought they had me trapped, and I’m throwing hook ’em signs and thinking, “That’s why people do this.” One minute I suck, the next I might not. All the sports I missed over the years when I was a kid, I’m kind of doing all of them, all at once.
This morning I feel like I got hit by a bus. A ladybus. At one point last night I got kicked in the face. I got kicked in the face to avoid getting my fingers run over. I’m a writer, I had to choose. In the battle of face vs. fingers, for me, fingers must win, every time.
Over the past few months, I’ve met some kick-ass women, I’ve learned I can do something I didn’t think I could do at all, I’ve been working harder than I’ve ever worked in my life, and I’ve proven to myself that no matter how hard you hit the ground, even if it’s on your face, you can and must get back up in again in seconds. It’s the only way you can keep moving, and the only way you’ll ever win.
I’m waiting for my name to be approved with the national registry, but until then, I’m prepping for my first bout. It’s in a few weeks, and I’m anxious and nervous and excited and kind of scared but mostly I’m wondering what it’ll be like to skate on that track with people watching.
There’s a bout next week (October 4th! Buy tickets now!) I’m working (not playing; I’m not on a team, just Fresh Meat) and then watching. It’ll be the first time I’ve seen a real bout, at the Doll Factory. Allison thinks it’s crazy that I’ve been doing this without actually knowing what I’m in for, what it looks like when you’re actually doing it. I’m watching this bout because the next one? I’m in. And I hope watching this bout makes me more excited than it does terrified. I’m stoked, I really am. But also: do I really want a thousand people to watch me get my ass kicked?
Yeah, I kinda do. Because I’m gonna get right back up and skate again.