Thursday, November 19, 2009

Roller Derby is a Cruel Mistress (but I love her)

It’s hard to say why I was so drawn to roller derby as soon as I saw it. I suppose you could say it was the atmosphere in the rink, the costumes and theatrics, and of course the beautiful and awe-inspiring derby girls. But it certainly wasn’t for love of physical activity. I have always been inherently lazy. I’m the person who never stands if she can sit, never sits if she can lie down. So I had no idea how much I would love the pure physicality of roller skating.

Before boot camp started, the most roller skating I had done in the last 16 years was a Friday night trip to the local rink a few weeks ago (to see if I still remembered how to skate at all). I doubt I’d even really thought about how much dedication, training and exertion would be required to be able to be one of those derby girls I so admired from the ringside. I wanted the glamour, the confidence, the sexiness of being so good at something, but I hadn’t really thought about what it entailed to be good.

And as it turns out, it entails a lot – you aren’t surprised are you? Since I’ve started boot camp I have been skating at least every other day. I’m eating twice as much as my body desperately tries to scrounge up energy in order to keep up with my enthusiasm. In the first week I made great progress in learning falls, stops and crossovers. Then I hit an enormous stumbling block: I can’t turn to the right. I can skate quite well in an anti-clockwise circle, and I can perform “lateral movement” to the left, but when I try and go to the right it’s like the whole floor gets tilted onto a bizarre angle and I’m convinced I’ll overbalance. But the surprising part is that I don’t mind having this problem, it only makes me more determined. I’m one of those people who have really low tolerance for sticking to something they’re not immediately good at.

So why has roller derby got me so hooked? Because its cunning, that’s why. It understands the psychological technique of push-pull. You get into your skates and off you go, it’s wonderful, like flying. Then you try something difficult, like maybe turning a corner, and you fall on your arse. But the embarrassment and the adrenalin rush from the pain only makes you try harder to get it right. Then you get it right and you feel amazing, you have never felt your body behave so gracefully, with such responsiveness, as you move this way and that. Then you hit the next barrier, but this time you know what it feels like to get it right. You start skating twice as often as before to fix your problem.

And that, to the best of my understanding, is how the evil temptress that is roller derby operates. She lures you in with the gorgeous spectacle of a derby bout, then when you are trying it out for yourself she puts all these hurdles in the way. But just as you are becoming terribly frustrated, she rewards you with the most exquisite feeling of physical control, grace and power – it’s intoxicating!

We were told at the beginning of our fresh meat journey that we would become obsessed. That we would skate constantly and, when not skating, we would think, talk and dream about skating. Well, last week I did actually wake myself up from a nap on the couch by kicking the coffee table: in my dream I was pushing off with my right skate for a crossover. This indicates two things, firstly that I am helplessly in the clutches of roller derby and, secondly, I can’t even turn to the right in my dreams!

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