Early in 2011, I’m not exactly sure when, I decided I wanted to play roller derby.
I had recently seen a movie about it and immediately knew it was something I was meant to do. After that I couldn’t stop thinking about it and wondered if derby existed here in Ottawa, so I did some research and found that yes, there was indeed a league here. Great, I thought and immediately sent them an email hoping to get some info on how to join and start this amazing sport that I had just discovered. I waited and waited, but never got a response.
I didn’t pursue it, because—as it unfortunately happens way too often—life then got in the way of me pursuing it. That was the year my mother was diagnosed with cancer and passed away, all in a very short period of time. Taking care of her in those last few months, weeks, and days took a big toll on me, both emotionally and psychologically. I was completely and utterly spent. I just stopped caring after that, and I stopped taking care of myself. Already a little overweight, I was eating anything and everything, because I just didn’t care anymore and I didn’t want to make an effort. All these things, combined with the fact that I was in a very unhappy and stagnant relationship caused me gain even more weight. I wasn’t living anymore, I was just surviving. I was just waiting for my life to begin again. I was in a dark place and couldn’t find a way out.
Sometime last summer, still grieving and at one of the lowest points I’d ever been in my life, I remembered roller derby. I told myself I needed to start pursuing this again. I couldn’t keep going the way I was going. There was no future for me where I was headed. I needed to do something. And yes, roller derby was that something for me.
People start roller derby for many different reasons. Some do it to get in shape or to get active, some for the adrenaline it brings and some do it for the people they’ll meet. For me, it was all of those and more. I can’t explain it really, it just called to me. Something was pushing me towards this sport that I had never even seen in person. It didn’t matter that I was overweight, out of shape or that I didn’t have skates or protective gear. Heck, I couldn’t even SKATE. But there was absolutely no way I was going to let that stop me or slow me down. I told myself that no matter how long it was going to take me to reach my goal of playing roller derby, I was not going to give up. I could not. I had wasted and lost so much precious time not living the life I wanted, giving up on something I wanted to do was no longer an option for me.
So off I went in search again and after some digging, I came upon another derby league in Ottawa—Capital City Derby Dolls—and saw their online poster for an open house they were having for their Fresh Meat program. I contacted them immediately to get details and got an answer right away. The very next day, I went out and bought everything I needed (except for the skates, which I was going to rent). I was ready. I was doing it. I wasn’t backing down. The open house couldn’t come soon enough.
On September 23rd, 2012, I put on my very first pair of quad roller skates. Since I couldn’t skate, I needed someone to hold my hand (or both of them!) while I got my bearings and skated around a bit until I felt comfortable, which took a very long time, let me tell you! I felt clumsy and awkward, but not once did the coaches make me or anyone else feel incompetent or inadequate. They were supportive and offered encouragement the whole time. They first showed us how to stop and how to fall, but the moment that is clearest in my mind is when Bella (aka Delicate Plower), called some of the girls wearing CCDD green shirts over to go skate on the track and told us that those girls were last year’s fresh meat. That they were in the same spot we were when they started just the year before and that if CCDD could teach them to skate that way, then they could teach us too! I watched them skate (and they were good!) and told myself, “You can do this.”
Fresh Meat started just a few weeks later and after that first training session, I was stiff and sore for the next three days. But I’d also never felt better. Now I didn’t pick up staking very easily, quite on the contrary. It took me weeks of training and practice to even skate without feeling like I was going to lose my balance all the time and fall. Some of the new girls seemed to pick things up very quickly and with little effort after trying things out just once. When you see that, it’s easy to get discouraged. But I knew that it would take me longer than most of them to learn these new skills, and that was okay. Every time I fell when trying something new, I kept repeating to myself: “It’s OK, keep going, you’ll get it, don’t give up.” I knew my limits and worked with them. So I wasn’t going to be the first girl to complete my minimum skills test. So what? Did that make me a loser? NO! Was I going to quit? Hell NO! I just looked at it as a way to get more practice and get better. I also remember something that was said (and I remember who said it) about completing our skills test: no matter how many times we needed to do the test before we passed, that they would keep working with us until we did, that we weren’t going to be left behind, that “you’re one of us. Always and forever.”
I’m very happy to say that I passed my skills test on March 23rd, 2013, six months to the day that I put on that very first pair of quad skates. It took me months to get enough confidence to be able to say that I was good. I still think I have a long way to go before I am even close to the same level as those who have been doing this a while. Having recently made it onto a team, even as an alternate, validates all my efforts and hard work. I am proud of what I’ve achieved so far.
Which brings me to another thing I’m proud of. Shortly after joining the wonderful world of roller derby, I decided that in order for me to become an amazing derby girl, other things needed to change in my life. Some of these were that I needed to take better care of my health and of myself. So on top of my derby training, I started training 1-2 times a week (ah, lovely boot camp) and playing soccer once a week. I also started eating better and making better food choices. Though not always easy, this journey has been a reward unto itself because recently I reached a milestone. I’ve lost 50 pounds since October and I’m still losing. Yes, roller derby helped me lose weight. Yes, I have more energy now and feel great! But want to be clear on the fact that I didn’t join roller derby to be skinny (that will never happen by the way). I joined roller derby for the love of the sport. The weight loss and healthier lifestyle were just happy side-effects.
One more thing I must mention, which happens to also be the most important thing, is that this league that I am so proud to be a part of, is full of wonderful, AMAZING people. Every single one of them. They are there at every practice, encouraging us, telling us, “It’s ok to fall! It means you’re trying!” They’re always offering advice and support when we need it. These women (and guys!) who are so good at this sport, who are so generous with their time and teach us, share their knowledge eagerly so that we can be just as good as they are. Their skill level is what I aspire to achieve and what motivates me to keep going. When one of them tells you that you were good and applauds your achievement, you can’t help but want to do more and be even better. Not because it’s not good enough, but because you want to make them proud. These people came into my life at a time when I needed them the most and without doing anything differently and by just being themselves, made me a better person. There are no words that I can find to express how truly grateful I am for everything they’ve done and continue to do.
For those of you who are reading this and are thinking about joining roller derby, but are unsure about the sport or wondering if you can do it, remember this: I was overweight, out of shape and couldn’t skate. But in less than a year, six months to be exact, I learned to skate and play roller derby (and be good at it). And in the process, I also met a group of people unlike any other, one that I now consider family. There is no greater thing you can do for yourself. Stop waiting and do it already. It’s the best decision you will ever make. There’s a saying I’ve seen online a few times which I find most appropriate: Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.
One final note: since they say a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ve also attached a before and after shot. One from just yesterday and another from one year ago this month. There is absolutely nothing that can compare to the thrill you feel when you achieve something you set out to do. In my case, it was to play roller derby but also, without realizing it, I was finding myself. I also found someone else: her name is Knock’erDown DeeDee and she IS a derby girl. YARRRR!!
By: Andrea Lafleur, aka Knock’erDown DeeDee