I joined ARG’s Rec League about a year and a half ago, in its second-ever session. I started skating at a time when I wasn’t sure I would ever be good at anything. Every hobby I’d ever picked up had ended in the frustration that comes from being unable to move past mediocrity after a few months’ dedication. Just ask the piles of yarn languishing in some dark corner of my office, or the numerous sketchbooks I’ve managed to fill only with good intentions. Roller derby, I thought, could be my “thing.” For now, we’ll disregard the fact that I’d never had any sort of athletic ambitions before.
Even in my excitement about getting started, I had reservations about my level of commitment given my less–than-stellar track record. What if I got hurt? What if I hated it? Why are these knee pads so expensive? But the one that weighed most heavily was, “What if I’m no good at this?” I’d had trouble enjoying things I couldn’t master in the past, and roller derby could very well be another addition to that list. What the heck, I was going to do it.
My first practice was everything you’d expect from a fresh endeavor: difficult, frustrating, exhilarating, yet I couldn’t wait to go back. There was something wonderful about learning new skills with a group of folks who were also just starting out. Watching an experienced roller girl land a jump or plow to a complete stop, we’d exchange skeptical glances that said, “Like I’ll ever be able to do that…” and then encourage each other to try anyway. Sometimes we surprised ourselves. Sometimes I skated George-of-the-Jungle-style straight into a wall. What surprised me most though, is that I kept showing up.
Sometime during my second Rec League session (the league’s third), I decided I would try out for Fresh Meat. In retrospect, my decision was insane. I’d only been skating for about three months, and could barely come to a complete stop, let alone execute a pivot or complete 25 laps in 5 minutes. I failed miserably. After that? I went back to Rec League. The failure had only hardened my resolve to keep going, despite the fact that I wasn’t progressing as fast as some of the women with whom I’d started Rec League. Three months after that, I broke my ankle.
I’ve got the useless distinction of having earned the first serious injury from Rec League. I was out of work for three months, and off skates for almost six. During that six months, as I watched new friends and former Rec Leaguers move up in Fresh Meat, I wondered what was next for me: whether or not I would have the fortitude to skate again, considering how drastically this “recreational” injury had affected so many things in my life. But as my ankle healed, my return to Rec seemed inevitable. I couldn’t not skate.
When I came back, I was terrible. My ankle still bothered me, and I was scared of doing just about anything that could put me back on my couch for months at a time. It was an odd feeling, being compelled to do something that also terrified me. A few months more on skates, and I started to feel comfortable again. I tried out for Fresh Meat again in 2013, and passed the first assessment.
Fresh Meat was difficult; probably the hardest thing I’d ever voluntarily put myself through. Despite all the hard work, I wasn’t yet skilled enough to move past the second assessment. I just wasn’t there yet. Then, after a few weeks of feeling sorry for myself, I realized it was time to get back to Rec.
Rec had afforded me so many things I’d taken for granted: friends who were quick to lend me the best crutches in the world, or spend hours playing video games with me when I couldn’t go anywhere, and lend me movies to keep me occupied. It had helped me realize that for once, my enjoyment of something wasn’t predicated on whether or not I was good at it. I was doing it simply because I enjoyed it. One of my first practices following Fresh Meat, a trainer expressed surprise that I’d come back so soon, and I think I might have laughed a little. Of course I was there. Rec League is kinda my thing.