Growing up, my entire self-perception was essentially “Brain + Limbs”. Little me was overly cerebral, and mobilized by long legs and arms that always seemed to get tangled up in efforts to walk without tripping. That was most of my body awareness in elementary, middle, high school, college, and even graduate school.
I had never played a sport before roller derby, and that was for two reasons. First, I taught myself that I wasn’t coordinated enough, wasn’t fast enough, and couldn’t catch or run or jump well enough that anyone would want to play with me. Sometimes I told myself these things, and sometimes other people did. The second factor was that school was a place I was privileged to thrive. I earned good grades and never felt the need to take on the physical challenge of something like a sport. I’d found a realm that rewarded my achievement, so why would I try anything in which I had told myself failure was inevitable?
For the past year, roller derby has reintroduced me to what my body can be and do. When I joined Wave 11 of A2D2’s boot camp last September, I wasn’t sure what I was looking for in derby. On day one, I mostly hoped nobody would laugh at me when they found out I was the World’s Worst Sports-er. On day six, I hoped I could forget for a few seconds that I had put wheels on my feet, just enough to get out of my own way to execute a skill.
Then on day fifteen, I sustained a minor ankle injury that took some time to heal, and I hoped my skills wouldn’t completely revert over the course of a few off-skates weeks. During these weeks, I sat in the middle of the track and listened to drill explanations, watching as other Wave 11 skaters practiced them. While my ankle was healing and I just wanted to put the wheels back on my feet, I had a moment of realization. For maybe the first time in my life, I craved learning-by-doing instead of learning-by-thinking, even though that meant literally falling on the ground countless times in front of a lot of other people before finding success. At 8 years old, that would have been my complete nightmare. A2D2 has many facets that make it an excellent place to learn and play roller derby, but skater-to-skater encouragement is near the top of the list. My day-one fears have never materialized; the opposite has been true. Many skaters whose own skills I’ve admired have said kind words to me or offered me tidbits of advice on achieving skills.
My skating progress frequently feels slow, but thanks to a lot of hard work and many graceful, patient trainers; I know it’s happening. I’m also getting closer to knowing myself as an athlete. There’s a newer inner voice somewhere that reminds me I can learn through my body, and that it can do some cool things. When I fall down for the thousandth time and jump up for the opportunity to try it again, the inner voice is there: I’m an athlete. When I’m shaking with anxiety but I go to practice anyway: I’m an athlete. When I reflect on what it means to be coachable or agile or mentally tough: I’m an athlete. When I have one more day to play roller derby with this incredible league: I’m an athlete. My 8-year-old self wouldn’t recognize me, but I’d like to think she’d be proud.
Velociroller is a 29-year-old Bank skater who enjoys complex consonant clusters, winter weather, alliterative phrases, and Jeff Goldblum. She's always happy to provide cookies, a bandaid, or a great portmanteau.