Sunday, February 12, 2012

Skate. Through. The Fear.

I had to just rename this blog.  Obviously.

Never in my life have I discovered something before that would make me want to focus not so much on my weight, but on being in shape.  Yeah, sure – they’re intertwined, but they can be totally different things, depending on why you have a certain body image, and what is influencing you to want to “look” a certain way.  So now, instead of wanting to look like a movie star, I want to look (and feel) like an athlete.

Rollergirls come in all shapes and sizes, and they can use their own unique body type to their personal strategic advantage.  I, with the long legs and not-so-Nicole Kidman body, can skate fast and hard and at the same time really get in someone’s way (once I truly learn how to block).  A skinny chick of any height can jam up to a pack and shimmy right through.  A short, voluptuous girl can be a force to be reckoned with for a jammer and anyone else who gets in the way of her team.  It takes all kinds of beauties to make up a derby league.  And for a group of women to find solidarity and fierce friendship in a sport, while being perfectly fine with their bodies just the way they are, well… it kind of makes you all misty-eyed, when you think about it.

So not only have I found a sport that makes me appreciate being tall (something I always hated growing up), I’ve really started to come out of my shell as far as just being myself.  Growing up tall and painfully shy is not a great combination, which is probably why I got into theater in high school and joined the Society for Creative Anachronisms after college.  ANYTHING to play dress-up and take on a character that is anyone but me.  But I was still too tall for a lot of parts I auditioned for – regardless of my acting talent, and I had to make all of my own clothes in the SCA because nothing I could buy off the garb-makers would fit me correctly.  That got time-consuming and expensive.

But the character you take on in Roller Derby IS yourself.  It’s you, to the power of ten thousand.  Your deepest desires.  Your inner warrior.  Your True Self after stripping away all that crap the magazines, movies, media and society say you’re not.  All that’s left is what you ARE, raw and unedited, and you celebrate exactly that.

Would YOU tell them to go back to the kitchen?
I was thinking the other day about the Marion Zimmer Bradley type of “Sisterhood”.  You know – The Mists of Avalon and stuff.  Yeah - it’s kinda like that.  Warrior priestesses.  No men allowed, unless they’re the Druidic type who can contribute knowledge and skills and share a mutual respect for the magic of the universe.  And the warrior priestess rollergirls get to be Dark.  Sinister.  Amplified.  Even a little bit Raunchy.  All that stuff society (still) says we really shouldn’t be.  What can we say?  We’re female.  All that power and darkness is in our nature. 

So this week’s practice marked a couple of turning points in my own personal growth.  I was able to skate all 25 laps without stopping (last week I only made it to 19 before losing my breath, turning beet red and having to roll into the center), and I managed to skate through EVERY drill without having to sit anything out.  I’m absolutely amazed at the progress I’ve made in the last 5 weeks of skating.  Last week while I was skating at the park, I noticed something different; something “clicked”.  I can’t really pinpoint what it was, but all of a sudden it was like I was gliding instead of trudging.  As a result, I had an extra boost of confidence going in to Saturday’s practice, but it went south really quickly:

No joke, there I was, smiling from ear to ear after completing all 25 laps (and feeling like I could’ve done 30), and then I completed the “suicide” drills (falling on one or both knees, getting back up, falling again, repeat) as well as the pace lines (weaving through a moving line of girls toward the front), ALL without having to stop and catch my breath at ANY point.  Awesome!!!  And then we started a game where you practice blocking, hitting, and being hit.  Oh – and falling. 

So I took a hit that sent me onto my face.  No kidding.  I’m talking the side of my nose and my upper lip hitting the floor and skidding a bit.  Face-plant, plain and simple.  It was a perfectly legal, in fact very skilled hit, but the way I allowed myself to fall was definitely not the way a derby girl should let herself fall.  At first I thought my nose was going to start bleeding, because it does that at the slightest drop of a hanky – always has.  But the flowing red curtains did not fall, o my brothers and sisters.  Not even a little malenky bit.  I just had a slight scrape on my upper lip, and a renewed appreciation for my mouthguard.
Just put it this way - I can relate to the one whose face you can't see here.
But then came the Fear.  It creeps up on you like it’s your dead grandmother crawling up your leg with a knife in her teeth.  All of a sudden, I wanted to go sit on the bench and wait out the next bout.  I had to tell myself, over and over, that this was simply your next challenge, grasshopper.  Do.Not.Quit.  Skate.Through.the Fear.  So I stayed in – even though the Fear had managed to weave its way intricately through my neurons and synapses and plug the dopamine transmitters and cut off the supply of adrenaline and endorphins, I stayed in. 
Frankly, Scarlett, your Fear is self-inflicted.

Later on, I mentioned to Pantychryst that I apparently didn’t know how to fall.  She graciously offered to show me, since I'd joined the league soon after everyone had gone through that drill.  What she started to explain to me was how to fall on one knee, then both knees, and get back up.  Ummm, well, gee – that sounds familiar.  Is that all there is to falling?  “Of course,” she said.  “You just have to stay low – in derby stance, arms in front.  Then you’ll fall on your knees instead of your butt or your face.”  

Was it really that simple?  Endorphins, adrenaline, re-enter the building.  Fear, begone.  (Well, not completely gone, but at least I no longer had to convince myself not to go sit on the bench before each & every subsequent scrimmage bout.)  Hunter S. Thompson once again whispered in my ear, but this time he said, “Fear is just another word for ignorance.” 

By the time practice was over and we were cooling down, I was able to congratulate myself for not only making it through the entire 3 hours physically, but mentally as well.  We’ve added another practice during the week where we work on nothing but scrimmages: an hour and a half of straight bouts.  That’s what I need to work on the most, because that’s what scares me the most.  If roller derby was nothing but skating fast for a long time and falling on one knee and doing T-stops, I’d be getting close to having nothing else to learn.  And how boring would that be?  It’s the mental stuff that’s proving to be my biggest challenge. 

You can get seriously hurt in derby.  I’m well aware of the stories.  You can even get yourself paralyzed or killed, in rare situations.  But hell – you can get killed walking out your front door, or driving to the carnival, or riding a horse.  Sure, it’s less likely you’ll get seriously injured doing those things, but sometimes the universe works in mysterious ways.  You never know when your number is up.  So why not continue to push yourself and challenge yourself to do things you NEVER in a gazillion years thought you’d find yourself doing?  It’s the only way to really get to know yourself, your limitations, and your potential. 

Besides all that, it's an athletic sport where you get to play dress-up.  Who could ask for anything more?