About two months ago, I started playing for a local junior roller derby team. I hadn’t set foot in a pair of rollerskates since I was a kid, and was wearing a tiny pink Hello Kitty pair that sat in the back of the garage for years after I tried them out once and decided that skating wasn’t for me.

I don’t know why I got the idea to join the team. It was mostly impulse, and foggy memories of seeing Whip It when I was in middle school and briefly entertaining (but soon dismissing) the idea. I just woke up one day and thought, hey, why don’t I play roller derby? And so I did, and I’ve learned a lot from this venture into something that was completely unknown to me.

rollerderby
Illustrated by Devyn Park

 

“I could never do that” is a self fulfilling prophecy.

It seems like every time I bring up the fact that I’m on a roller derby team to anybody (which I coyly do more often than I’m willing to admit because, come on, roller derby is rad as hell and it makes me feel at least a little cool), they always punctuate any polite interest with “I could never do that.”

That, to me, sucks. I used to say that, not just about derby, but about many things that I actually did end up doing – like going vegan, or getting published, or eating a family sized bag of Takis in one sitting. The second you truly believe that you can’t do something, it becomes impossible.

I didn’t think I’d even have the initiative to even walk into the training space by myself and introduce myself to the coach, let alone that I would eventually be able to skate a mile in six minutes and navigate a pace line without breaking an ankle. But one day, I put that doubt behind me, and now I’ve found something that I really love.

There’s this scene in the movie Whip It (Side note: you would be surprised by how many longtime rollergirls I’ve met who cite the movie as their inspiration for getting into the sport. Seriously, that movie was really influential) where Bliss (Ellen Page) tells Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig) that she and the other Hurl Scouts are her heroes. “Well, put some skates on, be your own hero,” replies Maggie. This scene and the overall message of the movie really resonates with me, because as fulfilling as it is to look at other strong, successful women doing what they do best and feel inspired from a distance, there’s a special sort of joy that comes from making yourself proud and actually being your own hero.

If you really want something, you’re shooting yourself in the foot by telling yourself you won’t be able to do it, whether it’s roller derby or getting into a good college or starting a band or running a marathon – if you want it, try it.

If you want to get really good at something, you can’t be afraid to embarrass yourself.

This holds true to basically every practice. It’s a painful pill to swallow, but something that you have to be willing to face when you try something out of your comfort zone, especially if it’s a physical activity.

At my first few practices, my form was reminiscent of a cross between a newborn giraffe and the human personification of a multi-car pileup. I can’t tell you how many times I botched my plow stops and accidentally ran into other more adept skaters on the team during warmups, or fell directly on my tailbone and had to hold back tears to avoid looking like a wimp.

I like to think that since my first week, my form has improved greatly. I can stand on my own two skates and even do crossovers, and skate in a pack without causing too much damage. I still make mistakes and look like a jackass on occasion, but I’ve gotten better. This wouldn’t have happened if I’d let every mistake or mishap get to me. It really sucked sometimes when I felt like all the other girls probably thought I was completely hopeless, but even the best skaters on the team were once beginners, so in truth they probably understood my pain all too well. You’re going to mess up. Getting back up and skating it off is at least half of the learning process, which brings me to my next point:

Falling down is inevitable.

As I once heard from an older skater, “You’re gonna fall on your ass at some point. Pick a cheek.” Getting hurt sucks, but even worse than the injury itself is the fear that holds so many people back.

Simply living is risky enough, when you think about it. You could get hit by a bus walking to school one day, or have an asteroid crash into your house. That’s just life. Playing a contact sport adds a whole other layer of potential to get injured. I’ve heard stories about people breaking their ankles so badly they couldn’t skate again, and I’ve seen players smack their heads against the ground so hard they spit blood.

These kinds of injuries are enough to make me, for one, have second thoughts about putting on skates. But if you get hung up on all the bad things that could happen, then you’ll become riddled with anxiety and you’ll never move forward. When you see a particularly grizzly injury, it’s often best to defer to the law of averages and assume that it’s unlikely that it’ll happen to you, right? If it happens, it happens.

 

It’s better to start late than to never start at all.

I joined the team at a really awkward time. Since I’m planning to go out of state for college, I’ll likely only be in town for less than one more year, so my place on the team is fairly short term. But I knew that I would really regret it if I didn’t at least get some experience playing on a roller derby team before I leave for a place where that may or may not be an option.

After realizing how much I enjoy practicing with the team, I really wished that I had started sooner so that I could have more time with them. Still, I don’t regret starting when I did. I’ve had lots of fun, and I’ve learned a lot in only a few short months. While my time is limited for now, I’m grateful for taking advantage of the experience while it was still an option to me.

If you really want to do something new and adventurous, don’t make excuses – you’re only hurting yourself. Like I’ve said multiple times, delving into unfamiliar territories is scary, so it’s easy to try to convince yourself that it simply isn’t possible. The element of fear is what makes trying new things so thrilling and stimulating. Humans naturally crave that thrill. Maybe you’ve been thinking about auditioning for an upcoming school play, or going on a trip to an unfamiliar location, or learning how to skydive. These are all fairly frightening realms to dive headfirst into, which is all the more reason to do it. Don’t wait until it’s too late – Embrace the unknown!

October 10, 2015