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Published on February 13th, 2012 | by Rettig to Rumble

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Derby Lessons from my Dog (Part 1)

For derby girls, derby is everywhere, in everything. Hip checks are practiced while we’re putting away the dishes, jammer holes are seen in freeway traffic as we drive to work, and great blocks are made while shutting the heavy glass doors in the frozen food aisle of the supermarket. Real life is constantly being seared into by the fiery tendrils of derby life. On one particular morning, as I lay pretzeled on an uncomfortable couch, I saw derby in the snoozing fur ball of a dog curled up and fast asleep behind my legs.

Prior to August of 2004, I had never owned a new mattress. I had always spent my nights tossing and turning on a hand-me-down pile of seemingly straw-wrapped barbed wire of long-forgotten origin. The mattress I had in 2004 was particularly torturous. One reason for this: it had springs. What’s worse is that most of those springs were broken. The ones that weren’t broken were totally dilapidated. They poked through the worn-out fabric top and into my back like earthworms working their way out of the ground after a hard rain. This thing was really more of a torture device than a bed—it could easily have been used as a prop in the horror movie “Hostel.” Not even my dog, Halo, an 80 lb. pit bull, wanted to sleep in it. He chose the floor. He chose wisely.

A few weeks after some of my friends decided we were going to start practicing in earnest to build this thing called “roller derby” in Seattle, I knew something was going to have to give. I could no longer take the agony of my bed of nails upon the newly tenderized portions of my body, namely my bruised butt. If I was going to continue getting beaten up during the day, I was going to need a soft place to rest my hindquarters during the night. So I splurged. I bought a brand spankin’ new bed—mattress and box spring. KING SIZE.

The bed was delivered to my house sometime in the early afternoon. The second it was set up, Halo and I jumped in. The king size bed was gargantuan. The two of us rolled around on it making snow angels. We found that the bed was so big that none of our limbs touched any of its edges even when we were completely flailed out. It was a football field of comfort. When it was finally time to go to sleep that night, the two of us curled up in the middle of that bed snug as bugs. I laid on my side and Halo nuzzled up under the covers next to me. We were spooning. Both of us were asleep in seconds, comfortable in bed, perhaps for the first time ever.

At around three in the morning, I woke up on the floor. I was confused. How had this happened? I squinted my eyes and in the green glow of the alarm clock LED light, I could see Halo rolled up in the blankets like a fork in spaghetti, comfortably snoring away with his head on my pillow. I quickly realized what had happened. As I slept, my dog had pushed me, a gal almost twice his weight, halfway across the king size bed onto the floor. I woke myself up laughing at the thought of it.

Since I was more-or-less awake, I gently (so as not to awaken the whiskered Sleeping Beauty) grabbed one of the top blankets and went out to the living room to lie on the couch and watch a bit of TV. My couch was not the same inherited torture rack that the bed had been, but it had been purchased used and was done so for its very affordable price rather than for comfort, of which there is little. “Couch,” I should note, is a generous word for this piece of furniture. It really is more of a love seat. It is only two cushions long and it’s short enough that if I want to lay my 150 lb. 5’ 6” body on it, I have to bend my knees and contort myself into a borderline painful position so that I’m able to fit. I flopped down and wrenched my arm behind my head trying desperately to make some sort of neck support. Sometime during the course of my blank staring into the Weather Channel’s multicolored animated map of a tropical depression off the east coast of Florida, I dozed off to sleep.

Sunshine tearing in through my living room window woke me up. My neck was stiff and cramped. My right shoulder was pinching nerves in my spine that I didn’t know existed. My legs were numb. And my dog, that 80 lb. boy who had kicked me out of a king size bed hours before, was coiled up behind my bent knees in a patch of couch real estate no bigger than one square foot.

Reflecting on my restless night and the subsequent stiff neck I was certain to have for the next two days, I had an epiphany. Looking down at my pup, I suddenly realized that in derby, size is not a function of mass. If an 80 lb. dog can figure out how to push 150 lbs. of essentially dead weight across and completely off a king size bed, a physically smaller roller girl also has within her the ability to move those almost twice her size across the track and totally out of bounds. Similarly, if that same dog who was but a drop of water in the ocean of a king size bed was perfectly able to coil himself up on the couch in a spot three times smaller than what his body should have been able to fit in, then surely, larger skaters, girls who naturally have the ability to take up as much of the track as they see fit at any given time, also have the ability to skate cleanly through a wall of blockers even if they’re only given an inch. At that moment I clearly understood that in roller derby, one is not limited by size, one is empowered by it.

Sensing that I had been staring at him, Halo opened his eyes. He hopped down off the couch and stretched his back by arching it, catlike, high in the air, then bending his hind legs, making a motion like he was taking a bow to stretch the front ones. He came over to me and gently licked my face. I carefully dislodged the cramped arm that had been wedged under my neck, patted him on the head, smiling, and said, “You are such a good boy.”

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