If someone had told me one year ago I’d be playing roller derby, I would have told them they were out of their gosh darn mind. I had no clue what roller derby was about, but in my head it looked like WWE on crack. Girls in fishnets and on quads, slamming into each other like they had a score to settle, bruised, bloodied, some with broken bones… How could any of this sound appealing?
Sure, I had, and still have, my angry moments. Sure, I liked to fight in elementary school, and even had a few episodes in my adulthood. Sure, I dealt with substance abuse issues, and treated my body like it was meant to die, fast, hard, without a foreseeable truce between my stubborn self-destructive nature, and the overbearing lack of self esteem smothering me like a loveless mother desperate to kill her newborn child… but couldn’t muster the courage to do it. Plus, there was the shame I felt to even be alive. There were days I woke up and cursed the world for letting me see one more morning of dread, and pain, dragging my feet like they weighed a ton, not knowing how or when I would be put out of my misery.
Escaping hell, and coming back to the bright side of the world, was quite a lifetime experience. I didn’t think I’d experience anything like that again. Recovery gave me a purpose, and I was fine, really I was, without roller derby.
Sure, I was clean and sober, and everything in my pretty mundane existence was going swell. I had the boyfriend, the house, the job, my meetings, and yes, I was doing okay. See, I was lying to myself a little bit. I hadn’t unleashed my true potential yet. Who knew strapping eight wheels to my feet would help me accomplish just that?
I went with an open mind to a bout. I watched girls, some wearing fishnets, slam into each other. I admired their determination. I envied their courage. I watched them endlessly, not understanding a single rule, but wanting what they had. Deep down I was scared though. Could I do what they did?
As a teenager I had attempted roller blading. That episode ended with me falling on my butt so hard, I bruised my tailbone, and decided the fun was over.
I like challenges though. My whole life revolved and still does revolve around challenges. You ask me: can you do it? I will probably answer, no, but I want to try. Roller derby was no different. I picked up a flier and read: we’re looking for skaters, no experience necessary. I asked myself: can you do it? And my other self answered: heck yes, you can.
I pulled the credit card, and spent $500 on beginner’s gear, because I was dead on determined to give this roller derby a try. I showed up to my first skate session, terrified, butterflies going hog-wild in my belly, and veteran skaters watching me like they wanted to devour me, but also hug me and tell me everything would be okay and I had nothing to be afraid of. What I was going through, they went through it as well. I had butt-pads. I had pads. I had a helmet and a mouth-guard. Nothing bad would happen to me. I just had to stay low, and bend my knees, and I’d fall, yeah, but falling is part of learning. No, I shouldn’t freak out if I overheard anything about “broken ankles” and other delightful war stories. The broken ankle wouldn’t happen to me. I was fine. I had butt-pads, and purple skates that shined like casino lights, screaming “Fresh Meat”. Arguably, I was ready to be (b)eaten to death.
I skated that first session with the idea I needed the world’s stamp of approval that I could actually do this thing. Clearly, after two hours, the world was still the same, but my world had been flipped upside down. I was hooked. I fell in love with the pads, the skates, the locker room smell and the veteran skaters watching me with their eagle eyes, seeing the potential I didn’t know I had.
Fact is I didn’t know I could do this until I did it. I showed up to practice, and skated like my life depended on it. I found freedom. I strapped these wheels and I embraced the moment. I was in the now. My love life, my job, the frustration of the day, everything went.
I just skated.
I asked myself: can I transition? Can I do a turn around toe stop? Can I skate 27 laps in 5 minutes? I ate derby. I dreamed derby. I lived derby. I read countless blog posts, and books to learn to develop my mental state as an athlete. I developed new workout routines. I hip checked walls, and subway doors, and doors everywhere there was a door to be hip checked. I stood on one foot while brushing my teeth, washing my hands, blow drying my hair. I squatted on my lunch break. I hopped and speed skated while waiting for the bus. I analyzed games, and fantasized I was Bonnie Thunders. I could skate on one foot, jump like a gazelle, and my grace and strength would blow everyone away.
I eventually passed my skills. I passed my laps. I started scrimmaging. I blocked. I jammed. I didn’t know if I could make it out of the pack ever. Darn these blockers must have hated me because their wall was impenetrable. Guess what? One day the wall wasn’t as impenetrable anymore.
Every time I unlocked an achievement, I felt like a superhero. The high kept me going. Every second, I said “thank you”. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to find myself, to love myself, to treat myself with respect and share these amazing moments with beautiful people who love derby just as much as I do.
One day, I asked myself: is derby my new addiction? Am I going to go out of control with this? Is derby going to ruin my life like drugs and alcohol did?
I got scared. Then I remembered the sweat, the blood, the bruises, and the tears of joy, the hugs. The love, that love we all talk about and non-derby aficionados don’t understand. The same love I found in the rooms when I stopped killing myself, and non-addicts don’t always understand either.
The sport is evolving at the speed of light, and I’m a part of this journey. Among the thousands of opinions, the workout routines, the advice, the tales of success and failures, there is my story. The life of a 33-year old girl whose world became richer because of a pair of roller skates, and a league of larger than life women who fight side by side to write their own story. I read every day how roller derby saves lives, and gives women and men that spark back. Roller derby makes me hungry to be better, to perform, to become that hero I always wanted to be as a little girl, but never knew how.
Through hard work, I’ve been able to face my fears, slap them in the face, and find faith. Faith that I could do it. Faith that everything would be fine, because I had pads, a helmet, a mouth-guard and the heart of a warrior fighting the battle of their dreams.
I am Kiki’n Da Teef, and I am a derby girl.