I moved to Ottawa in July of 2011 and knew absolutely no one. I needed to make some friends and fast. I contacted the Capital City Derby Dolls to inquire about their Fresh Meat Program, figuring it would be a good way to meet some like-minded people.
Quite honestly I was pretty freaked out about my first practice. I didn’t know anyone who was going—it’s not like I knew someone who knew someone whose cousin was going to be there. But I buried my nerves, packed up my gear and headed to the arena.
My fears melted as soon as I walked in. Everyone was really nice and seemed truly excited to have new recruits there. There were skaters of every skill level: some who’d played hockey and were very steady on their skates and some who had literally never been on skates before. The girls who were coaching were so encouraging. You could tell that they actually enjoyed teaching.
I started attending practices weekly and then twice a week. The faces became familiar, I was slowly making friends and it was nice to feel like I had “somewhere to go” where people knew my name and were happy to see me.
Let me make sure that you understand something about me: I have never been a natural athlete. I have never successfully played a sport. I was not that girl in high school who was athletic, popular and perfect. The idea of joining a sports team was terrifying. I had seen video clips and a few derby games but until I started to play, I had no idea how difficult it was. I was comforted by the fact that no one starts playing derby knowing everything and the cold hard truth is that derby is crazy hard. It may have been a staged sport in the 1950s but today, there is nothing fake about it. It’s football, hockey, soccer and track all rolled into one tight little ball on eight wheels. You have to have the endurance of a long distance runner the strength and speed of a sprinter and the skill of a skater all while getting the crap knocked out of you.
What the heck was I thinking?!
I tried not to dwell on the difficulty of the sport and kept telling myself: “You will get knocked down. The question is, will you get back up?” and get up I did. Over and over and over again. I pushed myself. Go to practice. Learn the basics. Have fun doing it. And what fun it was. In July of last year, I played my first game.
A group of us who came through the Fresh Meat Program were given the opportunity to attend the Fresh and the Furious tournament in Toronto. It was a road trip, it was derby, it was a girls weekend, it was the most fun I’d had in really long time. I remember laughing so hard I cried on several occasions. We were all crazy excited and super terrified but most importantly we were all in this whirlwind derby experience together.
Somewhere along the way—and I can’t exactly pinpoint where or when—derby started to creep into all aspects of my life. I was invited to join the scrimmage committee and started planning the league’s black and white scrimmages. I was asked to help coach the next round of Fresh Meat, I was elected to the league’s Executive Board, and I kept skating and training and falling and getting back up.
Soon it was time to tryout for teams. I wasn’t sure I’d make it. I wasn’t sure I was good enough. I wasn’t sure I was ready for the rejection. Truth be told, the fear of rejection was the biggest thing holding me back but I’d come this far and I wasn’t about to give up now. I worked my ass off for the next two months. I skated three days a week, I pushed myself to the point of puking, I embraced being a sweaty mess, I proudly displayed the multitude of bruises and battle scars, and for the first time in my life I stopped wanting to lose weight and was proud to have hips and thighs and a butt that could knock a girl off her skates (my greatest “ASSets”, as Coach Whips would say) and then… I made the team.
I didn’t think life could get better than that, but it did. I was voted team captain. I was in total shock. For the next three days, I kept pinching myself and asking if that had really just happened. I had spent so much of my life feeling like an outcast, like I didn’t belong, and being totally scarred by my high school years that I just couldn’t believe this was really happening. I was that kid who got knocked down on the playground, I was the girl who was always picked last in gym class. As much as we try to separate ourselves from those childhood experiences, we carry them with us as adults, something I was unaware of until faced with the possibility of reliving some of those experiences. I learned quickly that derby is different. Derby is a place where everyone belongs. Tall, short, skinny, fat, athletic, klutzy, smooth talking, socially awkward: you name it we’ve got it. When you’re here, the only person you have to be is yourself.
Today, I skate three times a week, I run three times a week, I talk to my derby team mates everyday, there’s always a derby girl just a text away, and I know that when I have a bad day or breakdown in sheer frustration with myself over learning a new skill or not “getting something” fast enough, I will have AT LEAST 15 amazing, encouraging, sweating, helmet-clad girls hugging me, supporting me, pushing to be the very best version of myself. I joined this league to find a friend. What I got was a family and a chance to be the person I’ve always wanted to be.