I saw the flyer near the door of the local coffee shop: Roller Derby is coming to Westmoreland County! A shot of espresso-scented adrenaline hit me. Roller derby! Here!
It had been nearly two years since I'd attended my first bout, and as alluring as the idea of derby had been, I knew I wouldn't commit to the 80-mile round trip to the rink where Pittsburgh's Steel City Derby Demons practice and play. So the idea of becoming a roller derby girl simmered in the back of my subconscious, always on the periphery of desire, a shadow identity just out of reach. But here was a reminder of my shadow self, staring back at me in black and white. I tore off one of the flyer's paper fringe strips printed with an email address, and headed out into the February cold to my car.
That night, I sent an email asking for more details. Atomic Bombino, the league organizer and veteran derby girl, emailed back. The first official practice was happening that very week. I didn't go. I didn't go the next week, or the next. My shadow self kept telling people that I was going to try roller derby, but the other half of me didn't really believe it. I kept saying it, and kept putting it off. It took me six weeks to work up the nerve to get on skates. And even then it wasn't at a practice, but in an empty rink where I could shuffle and fall without anyone seeing. I wish now that I had gone to that first official practice, that I had let my desire make me brave sooner rather than later. In roller derby you learn how to stay in derby stance so you have less chance of falling, and you learn how to fall (forward) so you won't hurt yourself. By going it alone and trying to protect myself from the emotional discomfort of being awkward in front of strangers, I fell backwards -- and badly.
With a seriously bruised tailbone and an inflamed sense of fear, I waited another week and a half to get back on the proverbial eight-wheeled horse -- still not at an official practice, but at a Saturday night open skate that some of the derby girls frequent. I emailed Bombino ahead of time to say I'd be there, put on my most badass tee-shirt underneath my clothes, and made myself go.
That night I made it around the rink 10 times without falling. Not 10 consecutive times, but 10 times nonetheless. I spent the first hour skating from wall to wall in the miniature kiddie rink in-between sitting down to rest my legs. When Bombino saw me standing on the edge of the main rink, watching people zip around with ease while I calculated my chances of successfully joining in, she skated over and talked me out onto the floor. We skated four slow laps before my legs burned with the effort and sent me back to my seat.
The fine people of Westmoreland Roller Derby gave me many things that night, whether they knew it or not. Bombino offered me much needed encouragement. Massiecre let me wear her knee pads so I could try a few laps without so much fear of falling. Murder Monroe, S.O.S., Franks Red Hot, and The Iguana all chatted with me, which is a true gift when you're the new girl. Sue Zee Haymaker offered to give me an old pair of skates that she'd bought at a flea market. I stayed until the rink closed at midnight and then joined everyone at Eat'n Park for a late night snack.
After that, I drove the two of us home, me and my shadow self. I needed some rest; my first practice was coming up in two days.