WRITTEN BY: SWEARWOLF
I am awkward.
Not in the cute rom-com heroine, I-trip-over-myself-but-still-manage-to-wear-spike-heels-like-a-queen type of awkward, but the kind who never quite feels at home in her own body and who is never quite sure what to do with small talk unless that small talk happens to be about Star Trek or Harry Potter. I grew up as the girl with the coke-bottle glasses, the perpetually missing front teeth and with the best friend who was a boy (oh, the horror.)
I vividly remember being ridiculed at daycare for not being sporty. A combination of being severely visually impaired and hating having objects whirling past my face made me a poor player of anything sports-ball related, so when it was time for mandatory team “games” I was always picked last for teams if I hadn’t already been assigned to one by a counselor (this was, of course, after I had been told that I could not continue to read my book instead of playing, unless I wanted the counselors to report my insubordination to my mom.) There was, however, one game that I was actually good at. It didn’t involve running, or catching, or kicking. It involved two inflatable inner tubes, each warn around the midsection of an opposing player. The object was to knock the other player off their feet with the tube, while maintaining one’s own balance and staying upright. It killed the kids who ridiculed be for being bad at every other game, that the chubby, blind girl could keep her feet and land them all on their backsides.
Once I was old enough to stop going to daycare after school, my participation in physical activity fell to the wayside and I gained a lot of weight. Through middle school and high school I was a subscriber to the excuse that I was fat and awkward so I didn’t need to care about trying to work out. It became a cycle of self-loathing and weight gain.
Eventually, in my early twenties, I decided I was tired of being fat and feeling like shit all the time. I participated in a handful of fad diets and dropped a good amount of weight. I got into my first serious relationship with an emotionally and sexually abusive man who liked to tell me how fat I was, and who alienated me from my family and friends. Without going into detail, the relationship eventually ended, leaving me with frayed relationships and a laughable self-esteem which, to be honest, wasn’t all that great to begin with.
In my need to gain back some kind of control over my life, I started running. One morning, I woke up, laced up some old tennis shoes and ran three miles. Running gave me back a lot of the things that I had lost over time. Using my body, feeling my burning muscles move, the sweat that rolled down my cheeks, it all made me feel, for the first time in my life since playing the stupid inner tube game, like I was powerful. I started dating again, I met the man who became my partner and husband, I adopted a dog to run with and I found my way back to my family and friends. Running gave me a lot, but what it did not do, was offer me a community.
And this, my friends, is where roller derby came into my life. While sitting on the couch watching YouTube cat videos after work one day, my husband and I got sucked into the YouTube rabbit hole and got really off-track. A far cry (or maybe not) from videos of cats failing to jump onto window sills, we found a video highlighting banked track roller derby as it exists in its modern form as an actual sport. I remember getting through the video, watching these strong women with body types across the spectrum doing what they love, and turning to my husband and saying, “I can do that? Did you see that girl’s ass? I have an ass like that!”
It actually took me several months and a big cross-country move until I actually started playing. I walked into my first Fresh Meat flat track roller derby practice not having skated since I was about 12 years old, and never really having worn quad skates at all. I fell immediately in love.
Since joining the Palouse River Rollers in August of 2018, I feel like I have found a place where I belong, where it doesn’t really matter how awkward I am; my teammates are happy to see me when I walk through the gym door, and are always open to offering help when I need it. Yeah, I get hit and fall a lot, but unlike with the inner tube game, I can always get back on my feet and go back in to try again. Going to practice isn’t like the games I was forced to play as a kid, I go because this is where I want to be. It gives me the satisfaction that I found with running, and it gives me a team to lean on and learn from when I need them.
Making friends as an adult is next to impossible, especially when you are introverted and strange. This is my outlet, and my means to become a better, stronger version of myself. I am forever grateful that I found this sport and this league.