One year ago today I drove out to a parking lot in Chatham, laced up a pair of quad roller skates, and joined Crow City Roller Girls. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
I had no idea if I’d even be able to do it.
I was 41 years old. I’d not worn roller skates in over two decades. Everyone else in the league was younger than me. And they were all far, far, better skaters. They turned corners by crossing their outside leg over the inside one. They transitioned from forwards skating to backwards without breaking stride. They lined up in a column, each skater’s hands on the hips of the skater in front, and one skater pushed the entire “train” of eight people around the track. Even as a teenager tooling around the school playground in my high-heeled, blindingly-white, tall-booted skates I’d not been able to do any of that. Plus: there was the mouth guard.
I’d never worn a mouth guard before.
I’d lived through my share of accidental collisions in recreational soccer and ultimate frisbee leagues in my youth and knew well how to protect my ribs from the stray elbows of other runners on crowded race start lines. But a sport in which the other players were going to deliberately hit me? Hard. With the intention of knocking me down. A sport in which I was meant to attempt to do the same thing to them? While skating. Nope. I’d never tried that before. I wasn’t even certain that I wanted to.
But I needed to do something.
I needed to do something because I was 41 years old and not getting any younger. I needed to do something because a plague of injuries had kept me from running for the past nine years. I needed to do something because I was gaining weight and losing muscle mass at an alarming rate. And because, when I’d told my physician recently that I was still plagued with back problems from a weight-lifting injury I’d suffered nine years previously, he’d shrugged his shoulders and said:
“You’re forty, Laura.”
And that wasn’t acceptable to me.
Additionally: I was living in a new place where I had no friends and had thus far not succeeded in finding a community I wanted to be a part of. So when a facebook acquaintance sent me an invitation to participate in the skate practice of a nascent roller derby league, I bought myself a pair of roller skates, a helmet, knee and elbow pads, wrist guards, and that scary mouth guard, and I drove out to that parking lot.
I had no idea.
I had no idea I was going there to meet the most amazing, diverse, creative, hard-working and welcoming group of women I’ve ever been blessed to know. I had no idea everyone would be so supportive in helping me to improve my skating skills. Or that I’d soon be travelling to neighbouring leagues to NSO (volunteer as a non-skating official) at their bouts.
I had no idea I’d drive to London to learn how to penalty wrangle from a skater from Toronto or that the Head NSOs from both London’s and Windsor’s leagues would train me up to become the Head NSO for Crow City. I had no idea the leagues in Windsor and Sarnia would invite Crow City out to train with them (on their nice shiny arena floors) to help our skaters improve.
I had no idea that today my back would be pain free, my physical strength would be back at a level I’d not seen for a decade and my cardio-vascular health would be well on its way to returning to pre-injury levels. I had no idea that within one year I would lose 60% of the weight nine years of injury-plagued reduced activity had piled onto me or that so much muscle definition would return to my body I’d need to replace most of my wardrobe. Even my wrists—which were starting to show signs of strain from two decades of desk jobs—are pain free now, thanks to the upper body conditioning I’ve been doing for roller derby. And my body is finally ready to try running again.
I had no idea how much work it would take to present Crow City Roller Girls’ first public bout. (CCRG—like most roller derby leagues—is skater owned and operated. Nothing happens unless we make it happen.) I had no idea that referees and NSOs from Windsor and London would travel to Chatham at 9:15 on a Thursday night to help us. No idea we’d be playing a team from Windsor, or that skaters from Sarnia would drive down to fill out our still short roster. And I had no idea how amazing I would feel afterward, faced with the evidence that all of that hard work and wonderful community support had paid off, and we’d done it! We’d brought roller derby to Chatham, Ontario!
I had no idea when I first laced up my new roller skates in that parking lot in Chatham one year ago that today I would be on the Board of Directors of Crow City Roller Girls. I had no idea I’d be on the league’s training committee, helping other skaters to improve their skills. I certainly had no idea that I’d be the one saying, “We need to do more hitting in practice. We need to be hit more. I need to be hit more!”
I’ve been an athlete most of my life. I’ve participated in both team and individual sports. I’ve played in rec leagues and competed internationally. But I’ve never before found a sport as much fun, a community as welcoming and supportive or an experience as empowering as I have found with roller derby.
Is there a new experience out there waiting for you? An activity that intrigues you, that you think might be worthwhile to try… but you’re just not sure? I urge you to get out there and try it! Until you do, you have no idea.
Laura Rainbow Dragon writes, dances, cooks, runs, and makes wine–amongst other pursuits–in a way-too-small town in Southwestern Ontario. She skates with Crow City Roller Girls out of Chatham and plays roller derby wherever and whenever she’s invited. Laura has moved house far too often but found a home she loves in the roller derby community.