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Published on January 27th, 2012 | by DerbyLife


Training Wheels

by Nicole Sanborn MacDonald, aka Smash Atoms

My car idles in the parking lot outside the Heights Community Center, heat blasting to ward off the chilly November night air. I glance at the clock illuminated on my dashboard, 6:40 p.m., I am 20 minutes early. “Relax,” I tell myself, “you always think it’ll be worse than it actually is.” I can’t believe I am going to do this for real, but I am here, so I may as well go through with it now. I recline my seat, put my head back and start to think about “Whip It”, that is the movie that put roller derby in my vocabulary. The plot of the movie chronicles a classic outcast-type teenage girl who joins a roller derby team, challenges herself, gains self confidence, and her whole life improves because she believes in herself. Things in my life had been difficult at the time so I could really identify with the main character “Bliss”, though with more adult situations. But the idea of playing roller derby myself came a few months later, just like the movie, through a happenstance.

“Whip it is really awesome. You have to see it.” I gush on about it, “The girls in it are so cool, and the story is really good.” My friend Karen and I are sitting in her kitchen, just like every Tuesday morning, our two girls having a “play date”.

“Oh, you heard about Jamie right?” Karen says as she rearranges the collection of stuff on the kitchen counter top.

“No. What about her?”

“Oh well, since she isn’t at her old job any longer she has had a lot of free time. I heard she started playing roller derby some where near by.”

When I get home that afternoon I open up my Facebook page and type “Jamie Bryce” into the search engine. There she is. Friend request sent. I happen to notice while scanning her profile that our mutual friend Susan has posted a comment to her about getting together to go skating. I click the link to Susan’s page and type in her comment bar “Did you join roller derby?”. By the next morning she has answered back “Yes, and it’s awesome!”

The following Saturday morning my husband and I decide to take my daughter to the new roller skating rink that opened in town a few months ago. We pile in the car and drive the ten minutes it takes to get across town to “Skaters Paradise”. I bang a left into the parking lot, and start to search for an empty space. As I weave in and out of the rows, suddenly there they are, Susan and Jamie, standing next to Susan’s SUV. I can’t believe my eyes, they both live half and hour or more away. I pull into the closest space I can find, kill the engine, and jump out.

“Jamie, Susan!” I shout as I run over to them, leaving my husband to help my daughter out of the car.

“Hey, Nicole! How have you been, it’s been such a long time!” Susan elates.

“Good to see you girl!” Jamie says hugging me.

I get right to business, “You have to tell me all about roller derby! I want to join, but I haven’t skated for years, that’s why I’m here today, to practice.”

“You should join! It’s really fun, they’ll teach you everything you need to know,” Susan smiles away, her usual cheery self, “Jamie here is the President of the league.”

“NO WAY.” I practically yell this at Jamie in my enthusiasm, grabbing her shoulder as I do. “Yes mam’,” she grins.

That day they gave me all the info I needed to contact the team about coming to the next weeks practice. So here I am. I raise my head and glance around, it’s 7 p.m. now and my twenty minutes are up. A few girls have begun to arrive so I turn off the car and climb out into the cold. No one seems to notice me as I walk in through the double doors into the gym. The room inside is your classic community center, complete with pictures painted on the walls of kids playing sports and sesame street characters smiling at you.

I walk across the floor and take a seat along the wall where all the other girls are already lined up and start pulling out my gear. These women are very reminiscent of the roller girls in the movie with tattoo’s and wild hair, but there are others that look like they could be anything: bank tellers, doctors, school teachers, or stay at home moms. I glance around to see where to begin with my various protective equipment. There is a girl a few feet from me with her skates on first, so I decide to start there. Suddenly, Susan is right next to me.

“Hey you made it!” She looks thrilled. I still feel terribly nervous and like I’m going to vomit despite being here 20 minutes early.

“I did,” I say back, trying to seem casual.

“Are you excited?” she asks smiling from ear to ear.

“Um, a little nervous I guess,” I say trying to hide my heightening levels of nervousness by fiddling with my laces, tightening and loosening them unnecessarily.

“Well I’m glad you came. Jamie had a child care issue tonight, but she said she’d better see you here next week, and,” Susan smiles widely, “she says break a leg.”

“Gee, I’ll have to thank her for those carefully chosen words of encouragement.”

Before I know it it’s time to go out onto the floor. Susan rolls her way out quite well. She says she’s only been with the team for a few months, but she seems like she’s doing great. I on the other hand kind of lurch and stagger, terrified and shaky, and then with a loud smack!, I meet the floor.

“You okay?” a girl with bright red hair is looking down at me with sympathy.

“Yep,” I answer as I huff, puff, and stagger back up.

“Okay ladies, everyone get into a circle,” a short fit looking woman calls out from the center of the room. Everyone proceeds to circle up and we are instructed to identify ourselves as “Fresh”, “Ground”, or “Rotten” meat, in addition to our real name or our “derby name”.

“Fresh Meat,” explains the fit looking woman, “are what we call new skaters. Ground Meat are slightly above the newbies, and Rotten Meat are the girls who’ve been around a while.” she winks and smiles at a tall thin girl in glasses standing across from her, “Derby names,” she goes on “are names chosen by girls who make the team. It’s your player name, which everyone calls you and will become your roller derby identity. Each derby name is registered and unique to it’s owner.”

Killz and Spillz, as the fit woman is known, then tells us to start skating around the track marked out in neon cones at 60 percent of our top speed. This is a problem for me because I can’t stay up very long and proceed to fall and hurt my rear end over and over. The other girls are great about this, offering “you’re doing great” and “bend your knees” as they fly past me, but I still feel inadequate in comparison with them.

A procession of drills follows this warm up skating exercise, consisting of push ups and sit ups alternating with a few seconds of skating, pack skating in which we are terrifyingly close to one another, and falling over and over again just to practice doing it the right way (which is on your knees, not the direction I keep falling). Through out all of this I struggle to keep up, and fall over so many times that my butt has no feeling left at all.

After what seems surprisingly soon, we are called back to the circle to stretch out. After about ten minutes of this I get up and manage to roll over to the wall and take a careful seat. I am dazed from total exhaustion for a few seconds, and just sit there zoning out.

“So how’s your butt feeling?” Susan asks sliding in on her knees next to me, “I have ibuprofen if you need it.”

Snapped back into reality I answer, “Oh, I’ll definitely take some. Thanks. I’m so glad I have heated seats, that’ll be sooo nice on the long drive home.”

“You did great out there, it took me months and I still feel like I don’t know what I am doing half the time,” she offers with a pat on my shoulder.

“Thanks,” I say bashfully “I had fun, you can tell Jamie I’ll definitely be back next week!”

Fifteen minutes later my legs are like jello, and my bag of equipment feels heavy as I make my way out to the car in the now very cold November night air. My breath comes in large cloudy puffs as I haul myself to my car across the lot. The other girls shout bye to each other and “good job Fresh Meat!” to whoever is listening. As I ease myself into my car seat I can tell I will have trouble sitting for more than a few days, and I make the discomfort tolerable by switching from left butt cheek to right all the way home.

It’s nearing 10 p.m. when I pull into my driveway, my body is very tired, but I feel happy. I pop the trunk and grab my whole days worth of stuff to lug into the house.

“How was it?” My husband asks me as I come crashing into the dining room with all my junk.

“It was awesome,” I say throwing my baggage off onto the floor, “I fell a bunch of times, but it was a lot fun, and the girls were all really nice.” I rub my behind. “Can you check my tailbone area for a sizable bruise and then get me some ice, pleeeease?” I say as I throw my arms around him in a weak hug.

Within a half hour I am reclining on the couch with some hot tea and a light snack. The ice is doing it’s job relieving the pain while I reflect on my first nights practice. It was scary, but in a good way. It was challenging, and to know I was able to overcome my fear and go through with it feels awesome.

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