I have played competition sports my entire life. I caught the competitive bug from my mother at a young age. She would challenge my sister and I to swim races on vacations when we were still in grade school; she beat us every time, of course. That, along with racking up countless losses during family games of Scrabble, helped me to develop a healthy competitive spirit for which I am thankful today.
I was once asked, “Do you hate to lose or love to win?” That question really stumped me, but I realized that I really hate to lose. This blog post is not about winning or losing, though. It’s about winning and losing alongside and against the person you’re dating.
It’s a tricky form of derby love, playing alongside and against your partner, but it’s also incredibly fulfilling and inspiring. I began this post with competitive spirit because my girlfriend, Lea (known in the derby world as Lez Dispenser), is fiercely competitive. She is as competitive as, if not more so, than me.
Lez and I first met two years before we started dating. I wasn’t playing derby at the time. I started playing for the Classic City Rollergirls in Athens, GA shortly after we met. When Lez and I became serious, I transferred to Atlanta. I admit I was worried that derby would affect our relationship; I mean, how could two very competitive, stubborn perfectionists play a sport together and date without killing each other? Was transferring to the same league a death sentence? Quite the opposite happened.
I remember ranting one time at practice a few years ago to some of my teammates: “ I don’t understand how some of these skaters date referees. I mean, I would NEVER want my significant other to start reffing or skating… Derby is my thing and I need my own thing!” At that point in time, I never thought I would be where I am today. I ate my words.
I was intimidated and literally sick to my stomach as I laced up my skates at the Atlanta Rollergirls practice space for the first time. Everything that could go wrong went through my head. “What if they don’t like me? What if I play awful and they think I’m a joke? What If they don’t want me to join?” But I was immediately filled with a sense of calm when I looked up, swallowing the dry lump in my throat, and saw Lez looking at me with pride written all over her face. She was glad I was there; she had my back and that’s all I needed to feel confident and survive that first practice.
We encourage each other, in life and in derby (but let’s be honest, derby is basically our life). Cliché as it may sound–she believes in me and I look up to her–and that is the kind of derby love that I want to take with me off the track, the kind that gives me wings when I’m afraid to fly.
We know that being a good teammate means respecting one another, just as a partner should do. I respect Lez both as my teammate, captain, and girlfriend. She has a lot of responsibilities with being a captain on her home team and on the travel team on which we both skate. Respecting her as a captain separately from our relationship is very important. I quickly learned that if we encourage each other while also respecting our individual identities within the league, we could learn to manage the weird lines that exist between a relationship with your partner and a relationship with your partner as a teammate. Lez and I quickly learned how to work with these lines and make sure they never go blurry.
Derby coexists within our life. We both played derby independently before we started dating, but I have grown both in derby and in life with Lez. There are numerous parallels with derby and life for us. We win and lose together in life, and on the track. We set independent goals and we both push each other to train harder and become better people and derby skaters.
We remind each other that we have life outside of derby, but we also know that derby is so incredibly significant to both of us individually, and we make sure to still have fun while inspiring to get better. We cross-train together and make time to encourage each other to reach individual goals that we set.
Derby is not always rainbows and fairy tales for us, don’t get me wrong. We both really hate to lose. I call the time period after one of us loses a bout the “derby hangover.” We deal with losing in different ways–I react initially and Lez takes longer to process it. We are, however, both there for each other as a support system and we make sure to never let derby emotions bleed through to our home life.
Bout days are also very different for both of us. Since we both started derby before we met each other, we both have specific rituals for our bout days. Despite living together, we still prepare separately for bouts, but our mutual support and presence, however quiet it may be, makes a difference. Sometimes we will write each other encouraging notes, play songs, dance it out, or just watch funny shows as we sit in silence.
That same silent support from Lez helps me on the track, too. Sometimes I will just look over at her, whether she’s on the track or not and without words her eyes will give me strength. I am filled with pride because I can tell how proud she is of me. Even if she’s on the opposing team, I know she supports me as an athlete, a teammate, and a partner (despite how much we both want to take the win!)
We have a very healthy competition in our “house divided.” Lez doesn’t hold anything back when she plays against me, and vice versa. I think we both acknowledge that the more we challenge each other, the better we become as skaters. We do this in our every day life, too. I’ve never met anyone that challenges me like Lez does, and I’m grateful for that. I work in sales, so I get people to agree with me all day long. Lez gives me a healthy amount of disagreement and pushback to balance it out.
Some would say that playing a sport with your partner is a bad idea, especially if it’s an outlet for each of you. Derby was initially a mutual interest for Lez and I, we both played on different teams and we would talk about our practices and upcoming bouts. I can’t say we have the magic formula for making it work. A lot of couples skate together and I’m sure they all have different ways of making it work.
As our lives merged and we became teammates and league mates, we had already developed a strong foundation of love, mutual respect, and admiration for one another. I know there is no one else who wants me to succeed more as a person and a skater than her, and that gives me all the drive in the world to improve. What more could you want from both a teammate and a partner?