Advice Photo: Steve Messerer

Published on May 22nd, 2014 | by Guest Contributor

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Photo: Steve Messerer

Retirement: Smoothing the Transition to Life After Derby

By Sweetart

The topic of retirement from derby can be an emotionally charged one.  When asked if they think about retiring, most skaters say “hell no.”  However, at some point even the most dedicated skater’s competitive roller derby career comes to an end.  Reasons for retiring vary from skater to skater.  Skaters also experience this transition in various ways.  For some, it isn’t a big deal at all.  However, for others it can be a very upsetting and negative time.  This article is dedicated to helping skaters make the transition out of competitive bouting as smooth as possible when and if the time comes.

There are lots of reasons for retiring

Sometimes retirement comes unexpectedly from an unforeseen negative life event.  A skater may be forced to retire because of a job loss, career-ending injury, or other issue.  Not only will the skater have to deal with the life issue, they may also be struggling with the loss of derby.  Sudden, unforeseen, unwanted retirement can be devastating.

Unexpected retirement can also come from a positive life event such as pregnancy.  Even though the change is good and wanted, the skater may experience some level of grieving because they are losing derby.  Mixed emotions are completely normal.

Retirement may also be a planned event.  A new job, moving, or going back to school may mean needing to give up derby.  A skater may decide they want to retire to focus on other hobbies or interests.  Face it, derby takes up a lot of time!  A skater may just feel her body has had enough abuse.  The physical demands that derby places on the body are incredible.  With planned retirement it is possible to know which season or bout will be your last.

Another reason skaters may retire is due to age.  While the answer to the question, “How old is too old to play roller derby?”  is usually dependent on individual factors (though I have heard some leagues do have an age cap), it is likely that at some point you will feel that it is time to stop bouting, at least at a highly competitive level.  Our bodies become more prone to injury, it takes longer to heal, and self-preservation may start to seem like a good idea.  With that in mind, there are skaters out there bouting into their 50’s and 60’s.

But derby is what makes me cool!

Mourning the loss of derby

Retiring from derby can be experienced as a loss for many skaters.  Depending on how big a part of the skater’s life derby was, the loss can be anywhere from insignificant to life shattering.  How strongly a person identifies as a derby girl will determine how big a loss the retirement is experienced as.  For the skaters that see derby as a fun hobby that is a small part of their lives, the transition out of competing will be smooth.  For the skater that lives, breathes, sweats and bleeds derby, the transition may be much more painful.   

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross suggested that people who go through a loss experience five stages of grief.  Not everyone experiences all five of the stages, and the stages do not have to occur in any particular order.  But some of the things you might feel are:

Denial. This stage includes feelings of shock, numbness, and disbelief. When loss first comes, most of us have a hard time believing that it is really happening. It’s not that we’re denying that the loss of competitive derby has actually occurred, but rather, it’s a sense of, “I just can’t believe I’m not going to be skating anymore.” Yet, the feelings of this stage also protect us. If we were to take in all the emotion related to the loss right away, it would be too overwhelming. Instead, our body and mind have a little time to adjust to the way things are now without derby. Part of the denial stage is also to tell our story over and over—one of the best ways to deal with bad things, and also a way for us to make it real. Eventually, we may begin asking questions such as, “How did this happen,” or “Why?” This is a sign that we are moving out of the denial phase and into the feeling and healing process.

Anger.  Anger can present itself in a variety of ways—anger at your teammates, at your family, at roller derby, at the world, at your body for betraying you.  And anger can be a difficult emotion to cope with.  Some will express anger easily and toward anyone or anything, but many of us will suppress the anger, keeping it bottled up or even turning it inward, toward ourselves. Anger is a natural response to loss. And if we’re able to identify and label our anger, it can help us express it in healthier ways that don’t hurt others or ourselves. Saying, “I’m angry,” and letting yourself feel that anger is part of the healing process.

Bargaining.  With bargaining, there’s a sense that we just want life back to the way it used to be. We wish we could go back in time, before the injury, see something we didn’t see. We may also feel guilty, focusing on “If only…”  Bargaining can begin before the loss occurs or after. If retirement was anticipated, such as in the case of hanging up the skates due to feeling like you’re getting too old, bargaining may have been going on for a while.  “I wish I would have been able to start skating five years earlier!”  If retirement was sudden, we may wish we could go back in time and change things. Bargaining keeps us focused on the past so we don’t have to feel the emotions of the present.

Sadness.  Eventually grief will enter on a deeper level, bringing with it feelings of emptiness and sadness. We may feel like we don’t care about much of anything.  Others around us may try to help get us out of this “depression.”  We have to let ourselves feel the pain, loss, grief, and sadness, hard as it may seem. As Kubler-Ross encourages, “Make a place for your guest. Invite your depression to pull up a chair with you in front of the fire, and sit with it, without looking for a way to escape. Allow the sadness and emptiness to cleanse you and help you explore your loss in its entirety.” This part of the grief process can last for some time—there’s no set “time limit” for the emotions of grief. So be patient with yourself, and remember that feeling the sadness is the way out of it.

Acceptance.  The experience of sadness is what leads to acceptance. Many people mistakenly believe that acceptance means we are cured or okay with the loss. But this isn’t the case at all. The loss may forever be a part of us, though we will feel it more sometimes than others. Acceptance simply means we are ready to try and move on—to live fully in a life without playing roller derby.

Understanding the 5 Stages of Grief can help us realize our grief is normal and help us navigate the varying thoughts and feelings we each experience. Mostly, however, understanding the 5 Stages of Grief can reassure us that we are not alone in our grief.  That grief is one experience we all have, or will have in common.  That means, if we choose to, we have plenty of experienced souls to whom we can turn for support and guidance getting through retirement.

Plan for retirement before you decide to retire

In order to have an easier transition to life after derby, be sure to plan for retirement well before you are thinking about retiring.  Doing this will also help you have a safety net in case you have to retire unexpectedly.

What role will derby play in your life after you retire?

Decide how much involvement in derby you want to have after retirement.  Some skaters completely separate themselves from the sport, focusing entirely on other areas of their life.  Some skaters continue to be involved as fans.  Some skaters consider the derby bonds they formed to be bonds for life and remain close friends with former teammates.  Some skaters stay very active in derby:  volunteering, announcing, fundraising, coaching, or finding other ways of being involved.

Respect other parts of your life during your competitive years. 

Make sure you have meaningful possibilities to consider when you retire by keeping your life balanced while you are still involved in derby.  Be sure to spend enough time with friends, hang out with your family, or focus on your career.

Get your supports ready.

Have the support of at least one close person immediately after you retire.  This could be a parent, coach, close friend, teammate or other loved one.  If there are specific ways they can help you, let them know.

Figure out what’s next.

Focus on new areas of interest while still competing in derby so that you can jump right into new activities following retirement.   Take some classes, try some new sports, or check out some other hobbies.  Think of the transition out of competition as a positive opportunity to grow and develop in new ways.  Find new ways to get your thrills, maybe without the spills.

Keep exercising.

Your body is used to a high level of physical activity. You worked hard to get in this shape so be sure to stay active and keep exercising!  It will be good for your mind and your body to maintain the gains you’ve made.  You don’t want to be hating yourself because you let that awesome derby butt get saggy.

Share your experience with others.

Get together with others who are also going through the retirement transition.  Hear about their experiences adapting to a different lifestyle.  Too many skaters quit derby and disappear.  Think about starting an alumni club!

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