POSTED ON MAY 4, 2011:
Boobs to the Floor
Wisdom from a mom-turned roller derby danger
I removed my contacts, washed off all the makeup, unbraided my hair, took off the bandages, slid the fishnets down my legs to the floor, unhooked my athletic bra, peeled the Tiger Balm patches from my back and stepped into a cold shower.
I was home from a roller derby bout. I skate with Tulsa Derby Brigade.
My name is Clara, my skater name is Cat Owta Hell and I only ever wanted to be a suburban housewife. I am a serious, solitary, snobby type and I dreamed only of making cookies, gardening and living a peaceful, obscure, ordinary life. I like Martha Stewart. I shop at Macy's and have a shoe fetish. I wear argyle twin sets and pearls. If anyone would have told me a year ago that I would be hopelessly addicted to roller derby, I would've sneered him into oblivion, after first asking, 'What is roller derby?'
I have always made fitness a priority, but gradually, over the years, I allowed the pleasure of indulgent eating to eclipse the pleasure of exercise. Roller derby reversed all that. In less than a year, my abs, legs and butt became solid granite and I lost 80 pounds without trying.
Let me dispel any lingering misapprehensions about derby: It is nothing like what was on television back in the days of dinosaurs. Derby isn't fake; the skaters are not switchblade-carrying felons, party-animal wastrels or unemployed street trash. That said, roller derby does have an unsavory and seamy history from which it rose in 2003 in Austin, Texas, like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes.
Derby is back, and it's bigger and better than ever.
Women's flat track roller derby is exploding worldwide. There are many teams in Oklahoma. According to the Women's Flat Track Derby Association, our governing body (wftda.org), there are 105 sanctioned leagues and 59 apprentice leagues.
It's an authentic American sport in which anyone can achieve the derby dream. If you work hard, you will get there, no experience necessary.
I am a blocker. Before our last bout, coach Court Collier yelled at me, "Boobs to the floor!," which reminded me to get into derby position and skate low, which is the best offense and defense. I grinned, did as he instructed and we won.
Here are some of the things I have learned in my year of skating derby and improving from useless fresh meat to dangerous veteran. What started for me as a casual lark to see if I had what it took (I didn't), has become a full-time obsession. I had to accept being really scared most of the time; I had to face failure constantly. I felt as if I had been in a car wreck after each practice. I began liking Powerade and granola bars for dinner; I learned how to freshen my stinking skate pads; I began caring about such things as rink floors. Concrete or wood? Is it sticky or slick? I shifted from despising to loving my skates like a part of my own body and realizing there's nothing sexier than the sound of quad wheels on polished wood. My pain and soreness from training has gone on for months; I've begun to discuss different wheels and their merits; I clean and change my bearings; and I have become as proud of my bruises as of my behind and legs as they gradually become carved marble and my stamina has become that of a triathlete. In derby, I am no longer the banker, teacher, realtor, business owner, mother. I am ferocious and cool -- a derby girl.
The most surprising part has been the deep bonds with diverse and unlikely women with whom I have nothing in common and it doesn't matter. We share skate tools, duct tape and tampons. We see each other cry. We compare blisters, contusions, lacerations, sprains and hematomas; we discuss strategy and penalties. We know each other at our weakest and our strongest. We laugh and argue, we high-five tiny victories, we love and hate but at the end of the bout, we have each other. It is a strange, intimate sorority, but one I've come to depend on in spite of myself.
My sisters and I skate with sprained limbs, with pregnancy, with pneumonia and bronchitis, with allergies, arthritis, heat exhaustion, with deep personal griefs and even with cancer. Nothing matters but showing up and getting to work. Skating becomes comforting.
I bought the jumbo bottle of Advil and learned to love cold baths and Epsom salts. It makes every bruise, strain, sprain, and pain more comfortable and I can keep skating. And that's all I care about.
As someone who looks like a boring librarian and doesn't party, is not punk, Goth, pierced, or tattooed, I may represent the future of derby. As the sport becomes more professional and mainstream, it may lose the fun derby names, face paint and wild clothes in favor of modest uniforms and a harder focus on clean competition. With derby featured in television commercials for Cheerios, Aleve and Nike, stories on derby in the The New York Times, and on National Public Radio, perhaps the complexion of the sport is changing to one of mass appeal and acceptance instead of the sideshow reputation it used to have. Either way, it's derby. Count me in.
Why would anyone do this? And my answer is, I don't know. It's like trying to explain why I love blood in my veins. My recommendation: try it for a month and if it doesn't have you, then no words will make it clear and if it gets you, then no words are necessary.
I live differently in the world because of derby. When there's a challenge in my life, I think, I do derby, I can do this. It is a powerful secret I hide behind my conservative clothes and big smile. I may not look it, but I'm derby.
You're braver and stronger than you think, so suck it up and start skating. You will be rewarded with one of the richest and most thrilling experiences of your life.
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