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Published on February 2nd, 2012 | by DerbyLife

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Thinking Outside of the Box

By TK-Oh! #3, South Bend Roller Girls

I’ve camped out in tornado alley…during a tornado. I’ve been caught in a Lake Michigan riptide and made my way back to shore. I’ve met and defeated Brazilian jiu-jitsu opponents mano a mano, finished marathons, Ironman, and 24-credit hour semesters with a 4.0 GPA. But for the life of me, man, I could not jump over a three-inch cardboard triangle to save my life.

Last month, during the first week of our initial new recruit training, we learned how to skate fast, then, strategically throw ourselves onto the floor. Some of my fellow recruits had completely understandable, totally sane-person reservations and subsequent challenges with this particular bit of fun – but not this girl. I’ve crashed my triathlon bike so many times going mach-5, without pads, that I half-expected to bounce when I hit the deck during this drill. Needless to say, I felt pretty invincible.

That was the first week. The second week we learned how to stop in all kinds of newfangled ways; we’re talking slides, T-stops, Plow stops, and just for kicks, several of the league skaters showed us the Tomahawk stop, which I secretly decided was the quintessential “I wanna be her when I grow up” derby girl move. Anyway, save the latter, I learned how to stop without involving my face, and all was still right with the world.

Come week three, however, and things changed. We learned – well, some of us did – how to hop over an obstacle: a three-inch tall cardboard triangle, to be exact, which immediately became the bane of my existence. I could jump over any painted line on the track, mind you, double knees up, both feet landing at the same time (dare I say it was art in the air? – All right, all right, no, I don’t, but I could jump over the lines with a semi-respectable amount of height, OK?) Put that three-inch cardboard axis of evil in my path, though, and I froze like a preacher in a porn shop.

Time after time, day after day, I was a prisoner of the stupid little corrugated demon from the 5th ring of Hell. Others told me not to sweat it, I had time before testing, I’d get it if I’d just put it out of my head, take a break from it for a while…so I did. I kept busy with the other drills until a few days before testing, when it became clear that I still couldn’t jump over the box. In a panic, I signed up for the skate lessons offered at our track the next day, which were mostly for kids, but a few newbies like me and a few derby girls could be found there brushing up on skills each week. It was my last shot, and I hate to say it, but it went a little something like this:

“Mind, get on the bus here. It’s a box.”

“I know, I know; I don’t understand the hold up either.”

“Just make my knees go up together; you’ve been doing this all week, let’s go.”

“OK, OK…let’s try it again…”

Couple of laps around the track….Yeah, I got this…jump over that blue line up there…nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnow! YUSSSS!

“There! See? Now just do that with the triangle.”

“OK, yeah. Yeah, baby, I got this…I got this…hey, Body, do the Cabbage Patch.”

“What? No.”

“Come on! I got this…Cabbage Patch with me!”

“What are you, at an 8th grade dance? There’s no Funky-bunch playing here; these are derby chicks, man!”

“Whatever, Body…you care too much what people think. I’m Cabbage Patching.”

“Ohmygod. Just make my knees go up over the box.”

“K. Got this all day…here we go…”

Couple of laps…doo-d’oo-d’doo…jump over the line…nnnnnnnow!

“Oh yeah! Uh-huh! Boh-daaayyyy…It’s your birthday…uh-huh…”

“Man, Mind, shut up for real.”

“I…am the champion…my frie-ends…..”

“Mind!”

“What??”

“Queen? You can’t sing Queen until we jump the box. Jump the box. Then Queen. Do you hear me?”

“OK, OK, fine. I said I got this…did you see that air back there!? I am AWESOME.”

All right…aaaaaaaand circle ’round…line up…there it is…a few strides…and jump…nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnoooooo!

“DUDE!”

“What…? Body, what the hell? I don’t know why..?”

I sat on the side of the rink completely baffled, and before I knew it, started crying. I know, crying! Great! TEARS to add to my suckitude in front of not just the league girls, but one of the coaches, too, who was, oh crap! Walking over to me!

“Hey, you know what, you’ll get it. I’ve seen you own every other skill out here, and you’ll get this too. Just relax. You’ll be fine tomorrow.” He was awesome, but after he walked away, I was all kinds of embarrassed and got to the bathroom as fast as I could.

I wanted to do this. He said if I wanted it, I’d figure out a way to make it happen, and come to think of it, wasn’t that my calling card, after all? Wasn’t I the girl who quoted Hannibal’s “We will either find a way or make one” in my email signature? How many finish lines have I crossed because I said I would? Epictetus: “First say to yourself what you would be, then do what you have to do,” right? I had quotes like that all day, man! And I’d come too far to be bested by this idiotic box.

But despite my momentary restroom rally, it wasn’t happening. The DJ announced open skate just as I got back to the track, the lights went whirly, and little kids flooded the floor. I packed my gear and started for the door just as Mylie Cyrus hit the speakers, and there at the apex of the lobby, almost ran over a very effervescent little seven-year-old who was falling down with every step.

“HI!” she said.

“Um, hi!”

“Today’s my party, but my real birthday’s not until tomorrow.”

“Oh, cool! Did you come to skate lessons to get ready for your party?”

“Yup.”

“Well, happy birthday. You’re doing a great job!”

“Thanks! I’m trying! Bye!”

And she stumble-slid off in the general direction of the other little girls. I watched her for another few seconds and wound up smiling the whole way back to my car, where reality hit me once again. I’m testing tomorrow, and I can’t jump the box. What the hell am I going to do? Blugggghe.

Back at home, I broke down about it to my husband – how could I jump like damn Baryshnikov over any of the painted lines, but stop the world if you put that stupid cardboard apocalypse in my path? He agreed it had to be some kind of mental block, so, being the awesome husband that he is and knowing me the way he does, he promptly went to his workbench and whipped up this NASA-android equivalent to the cardboard triangle: This sucker was made of 3.5 inches of wood blocks on either side of a half-inch plastic pipe, all spray painted white to seal the deal that this was the ultimate in intimidating obstacles for me to have to clear. Bring. It. On. Now this was a right proper nemesis.

TKO box_0.jpg

He handed it to me and said, “K, so just practice jumping over this without your skates – like, get used to the motion, you know? Then, your mind will automatically remember how to do it when you have to jump the box tomorrow.” (Oh, if you could have heard Body laugh at that one.)

Renewed, I jumped back and forth over the pipe like some kind of demented Jack with a candlestick, and life was good. I took it to practice the day of the testing to try it out with my skates, and…no, no, no…I would be testing this skill within the hour, and I still couldn’t do it!

For the first time in a long time, I wondered if all this work had been for nothing. Tears started up in the back of my throat, and I swallowed hard because ALL the league girls and coaches were there now – no way I was going to have all that.

Slides test, check.
Stops test, check.
Sprint test, check.
Egging and weaving test, check.
Hop test…

I lined up last and tried not to think about “what ifs,” because in these situations, what ifs are never good.

“OK, this is a run through, one practice hop, then we’ll have the real deal.”

The first girl hopped clean.

“Nice!”

What I felt next seemed like resignation, the empty, apathetic acceptance that whatever was going to happen would just happen, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it now. It was a little liberating, though, come to think of it. Looking back, I’m pretty sure this was the first step in letting go of what was keeping my feet stuck on the ground all that time, and I say this because the next thing that came into my head was, “Just keep trying!” in a tinkling little seven-year-old’s voice.

The second and third girls hopped clean.

I felt the corners of my mouth turn up a little as I remembered her trying to make her way over to her friends, and it occurred to me that maybe it wouldn’t all be for nothing if I couldn’t pass this one skill. I’d mastered all the others in record time after all, and if this one thing held me back, there had to be a reason for it. So…it was time to do some inventory:

Was I afraid of falling? No. I’d fallen so many times before; I knew I was capable of getting up again and again, and even if I did get hurt, I knew I’d heal in time.

I wasn’t afraid of the fall… I was afraid of letting go—of risking my feet leaving the ground. I mean, could I really do this? Derby, hip-checks, fishnets, and words on my ass??\

The fourth girl hopped clean…I was next.

I looked around at the league skaters helping out at the various testing stations. They were very much “Hey, what you see is what you get,” all day long – “Love me, or jump in front of a bus for all I care” echoed in everything they said and did, with no compromises. They were all shapes, all ages, all sizes, and I loved this about them. I loved this the most about them, in fact. There were no prom queens here. No uber-elite housewives sitting in judgement of my track pants and soccer sandals at the grocery store. I had nothing to prove, no one to impress or surpass, and no deadline on my becoming just as comfortable in my own skin as they were in theirs. I could take it step by step, order a pair or two of hot pants and not worry about “looking fat,” or “like this” or “like that.” I mean, it might be a while before I put any words on the marquee just so you know, but hey, that was OK too. I’d just keep trying new things outside of my comfort zone, and in doing that, my discomfort, fear, self-consciousness, all the things I thought I’d hunted down and killed long ago in each incarnation of accomplishment would slowly just disappear.

See, I think where I went wrong before was in thinking that these hang-ups can be drilled out of you by facing down obstacle after obstacle and proving to yourself with each successful endeavor that you are worthy of your own self-acceptance. But there’s a difference in knowing a thing and in believing a thing completely. None of these girls needed justification or a rationale for why they were amazing; their confidence in themselves was more substantial in that moment to me than any medal, degree, or position I’d ever earned, because, really, what are all those things if you can’t let go of what you think you’re supposed to be, and just be who you are?

I guess just then I realized that derby was going to be more than a sport for me. It was going to affirm my conscious belief in myself, but also get my subconscious, which evidentally hadn’t been in step, to follow suit.

I cleared that triangle when my turn came, to my utter disbelief. I rolled by my coach and said, “Man, if I mess up the real one, you better count that one!” He laughed, and I felt the tears start up again in the back of my throat.

I swallowed hard and watched all the girls in front of me clear the box “for real,” until it came down to the moment I’d dreaded for weeks.

Just keep trying…just keep trying…

I hopped, and suddenly “We Are the Champions” exploded in my head.

I let the tears fall then, and though it was kind of hazy, there’s no way I could have missed the other recruits, coaches, and league girls smiling BIG, clapping, and cheering.

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