30 x 30: A Challenge of a Different Nature (Guest Post)

In July of last year I heard about an initiative Ontario Parks was hosting for the month of August: the 30 x 30 Nature Challenge. The 30 x 30 concept was created by the David Suzuki Foundation in 2012 with a goal “to reconnect human beings with nature for the sake of their health and mental well-being.” The challenge is a simple one: spend 30 minutes a day in nature, every day for 30 days. I did not think the Challenge would be at all challenging for me. (It’s unusual for me to spend less than 30 minutes in nature any day except during the most inclement weather.) But I decided to participate because I thought the 30 x 30 concept was a great one to promote.

The first day of the Challenge I did not do anything special. I had almost 200 litres of apples littering my back yard (early windfall from one very large tree). The apples needed to be collected, and it took me 3 hours to do so. So I was outside in nature that day for 6 times the 30 minutes asked for by the Challenge.

August 2nd was just a normal day for me too. I took my dogs for a walk. I live in a small town with many trees on just about every street in my neighbourhood, so even the (almost) everyday occurrence of walking my dogs is time spent in nature.

So far, my 30 x 30 Challenge was shaping up to be just as non-eventful as I had expected. Then, late in the day on August 2nd, I experienced something that threatened to derail my participation in the challenge: an episode of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV).

I was nearing the end of my daily yoga asana practice when a change in the orientation of my head set off the vertigo. This was not such a problem for my yoga practice that night as all I had left to do was shavasana (a pose which does not provoke the vertigo). But I was worried about what the BPPV meant for my participation in the 30 x 30 Challenge (not to mention my personal challenge of practising yoga asana every day for a year—a goal I was at that time only 2 weeks away from achieving). I’d only experienced one episode of BPPV prior to that night. That previous episode had lasted for 7 days and been so bad I’d been unable to do anything for the first 2 days other than lie on my back and stare straight up at the ceiling. I crawled into bed—slowly—and hoped the BPPV would not be so bad this time.

I got my wish. When I awoke on August 3rd, I still had vertigo, but my condition had improved to about where I was at on the 4th day of my previous BPPV episode. I was able to sit up, and even to walk—albeit slowly and without turning my head—without triggering the vertigo. I did not feel up to doing anything too energetic, but I made it outside for my 30 minutes in the evening, sitting on a lawn chair to watch the fireflies dance, listen to the crickets chirp and the frogs sing, and gaze up at the outline of tree branches arching over my head, creating dark patches in the starry night sky. (I also got in my yoga practice by doing a few minutes of gentle, restorative poses on my back.)

By the morning of August 4th, my BPPV episode had cleared up entirely. My neighbourhood was caught in the grip of a fierce heat wave, however, with a humidex pushing 40C. I was grateful to have yard work to do that involved the use of a garden hose.

August 5th saw me doing more yard work—harvesting fruit this time. On the 6th I was out of town most of the day, visiting friends in London. I took the opportunity to do some rollerskating on the paved trails which wind through town alongside the Thames River, passing through a network of urban green spaces that provide Londoners with excellent opportunities to get outside and experience nature without ever having to leave the city.


[Laura shows off her rainbow roller skating attire (and a baby bruise from early in her roller derby career).]

Then our heat wave returned.

I spent the next 6 days of the Challenge looking for ways to get outside and still beat the heat. I enjoyed a campfire cookout one night and a late night hike with my dogs the next. On August 9th I arose bright and early and drove down to Lake Erie to do some sunrise yoga on the beach. On the 10th I stayed inside through the hottest part of the day but returned to the beach in the evening for some sunset yoga. The temperature down by the lake was much more pleasant than in town where I live.


[Laura salutes the setting sun during a yoga session on the beach at Erieau.]

I returned to the lake again on the next two days, to a different, darker beach, in the wee hours of the morning to watch the Perseid meteor shower. I even tried my hand at a little long-exposure night sky photography on the second night.


[Not the greatest of photos, but I did catch a couple of Perseids.]

Then, on August 13th, we had rain. Glorious rain! It was such a welcome relief after the previous week’s heat, I spent my 30 minutes dancing in it.


[Laura enjoys dancing in the rain.]

On August 14th I enjoyed another wet 30 x 30 activity, returning to the beach at Erieau for a swim. On the 15th I stayed closer to home and visited my local “Fit Park” for a workout. I’d seen these outdoor fitness parks cropping up in a number of communities in recent years and was thrilled when even my small town (population < 5000 people) got one. They’re a great addition to public green spaces and a great strength-training opportunity for people who perhaps cannot afford the cost of a gym membership or just prefer to get a little dose of nature with their workout.


[Laura checks out the workout equipment in her local Fit Park.]

August 16th was the final day of my “Yoga Asana Every Day for a Year” challenge (which I blogged about here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2016/08/18/366-days-of-yoga-guest-post/). To celebrate, I treated myself to a full day at home yoga retreat. So, naturally, my 30 x 30 Challenge activity was yoga too. I took my handstand practice outside and was rewarded with the closest thing to a freestanding handstand I had ever, up until that point, achieved: I kicked up and “caught air” for longer than 1 second!


[Laura practises her handstands outside: not quite there yet, but getting closer!]

After completing over 6 hours of yoga asana practice at my home retreat, I decided to take a more physically restful day the next day and spent some time writing in the woods for my 30 x 30 activity.


[Laura takes a break from her desk with a writing session in the embrace of an old tree.]

I did not run much during the 30 x 30 Challenge due to high heat and humidity, but I took advantage of the light cast by the full moon to go for a night run around my local marsh on the 18th. The following day, I stayed home and spent my time in nature playing with my dogs in our back yard. And on the 20th I stayed home as well to do more yard work (juicing apples this time—which I always do outside due to the mess).

August 21st I set up my slackline and did some yoga slacking between the trees on my front lawn.


[Laura attempts some yoga poses on her slackline.]

On August 22nd I cycled to my local conservation area and hiked around for 2.5 hours, taking in the sights. I took many close-up photographs, seeking out as many different colours as I could find amongst the fruit, flowers and insects of the conservation area.


[Colourful fruits, flowers, and insects of C.M. Wilson Conservation Area.]

A month-long nature adventure would not be complete for me without camping. But I had neither the time nor the money necessary to head off into the wilderness. So I pitched my tent in my own back yard.


[Laura’s golden retriever, Trudy, was happy to camp out too.]

The morning of August 24th I stayed outside to enjoy breakfast in the yard. On the 25th I spent some time gardening, tending to my tomato plants. On the 26th I went for another nature hike, this time around a small marsh which is walking distance from my home. As I’d focussed primarily on sight and colour during my hike in the conservation area, I decided to take this hike a bit differently and concentrated on experiencing the textures of nature. I left the gravel path and walked right at the edge of the marsh so I could touch the plants and feel the waxy, ribbed petals of the marsh mallows; the prickly thistles with soft petals at their tips, some turned already into fluffy seeds; the suede-like hides of the bulrushes with their hard, round stems, pointy tips, and smooth, flat leaves; and the delicate blossoms of Queen Anne’s lace, some now curled up into clusters of tiny oval fruits fringed with delicate spines. I also wore minimalist shoes so I could feel the ground beneath my feet and better feel the differences between unyielding, dry ground and squishy, wet ground; soft, uniform grass and hard, uneven reeds.


[Marsh mallows, thistles, Queen Anne’s lace, and bulrushes provided interesting tactile experiences on a marsh hike.]

August 27th brought another day of rain, this time with thunder and lightening and threats of high winds, torrential downpours, flash floods and hail: all the severe weather events one doesn’t want to get caught in far away from shelter. So I stayed home and spent my 30 minutes in nature enjoying the storm from the safety of my backyard patio.

As I’d already eaten breakfast and dinner outside earlier in the month, I decided on the 28th it was time for a picnic lunch.


[Laura enjoys a picnic lunch under the trees in her backyard.]

On August 29th I got outside bright and early to take advantage of the cooler early morning temperature to go for a run. I chose for my route my favourite trail in town, which winds through a small woodlot behind one of the local public schools. It is the only publicly accessible forested trail in the town where I live. Though this trail is short (I run multiple loops of it when I go), it is a huge blessing to me. It is a blessing in the heat of the summer when I want to go for a run but need some protection from the sun’s sweltering rays. It’s also a blessing in the winter when the trees provide an effective windbreak to shelter me from bitter cold windchill. The trail is a blessing in the spring when rainfall releases so many wonderful aromas from the forest floor. And it’s a blessing in the autumn too: Running in a forest when the colours have turned and leaves have begun to fall, forming a soft, fragrant and colourful carpet beneath my feet is one of my favourite things!

When I reached the woodlot on this morning, I saw that a new sign had been erected at the trail head.


[The sign reads:

“The woodlot before you was once just a grassy playing field. That changed in the 1970s when Bill MacIntosh, a former principal of Harwich Raleigh Public School along with Pop Drewery and Glen Meredith, led the school staff in planting hundreds of little trees.

“Then in the early 1990s, a Harwish Raleigh teacher, Cheryl Wolting, realized the mature woodlot’s potential. She linked the woodlot to the school curriculum and organized the students and staff in creating walking paths. A local farmer, Doug Flook and his family helped trim the paths and trees for over 20 years when the municipality of Chatham-Kent assumed the maintenance.

“This woodlot is an example of individuals working together to make a positive difference for everyone.”]

I had not known the history of the trail before the sign was installed and felt upon reading it immense gratitude for all the people who understood the importance of giving humans access to nature and chose to invest so much of their own time, energy and other resources to make this trail possible for our entire community.

For the final day of my 30 x 30 Nature Challenge I returned to the shore of Lake Erie once more, this time to sit and meditate on all of my experiences taking the Challenge.


[Lake Erie at twilight.]

I sat on the rocks by the water’s edge and enjoyed the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks, the fresh lakeside air, and the fading colours of twilight. Then I hiked the trail that runs between Lake Erie and McGeachy Pond, climbed the lookout tower and enjoyed the view from the top of the tower as the stars began to come out.

When I first embarked on my 30 x 30 Nature Challenge I had not expected the Challenge to have much of an effect on me. The Challenge, after all, was not challenging for me. I could complete it without making any adjustments to my regular everyday life activities. I did make the decision at the outset to attempt to complete as many different “outside in nature” activities over the course of the 30 days as I could within the confines of my limited budget. I’d expected to have some fun with this. But that was about it.

I’d been wrong.

When I sat down at the end of the month to reflect on my experiences over the past 30 days I found that the 30 x 30 Nature Challenge had in fact had a profound effect on me. I’ve always enjoyed spending time in nature and have for as far back as I can remember conceived of myself as someone who appreciates the natural world and the value of spending time in it. But in taking the time to reflect on my experiences during the Challenge, and to think of so many different ways I could experience and appreciate time in nature, I found that my relationship with nature became much more mindful. I’m more aware now of all the small opportunities to experience nature that present themselves in my everyday life and less likely to take them for granted. I think too that the Challenge taught me to have more gratitude for the opportunities I enjoy, both big and small, to spend time in nature.

I’ll be taking the 30 x 30 Nature Challenge again this year, beginning on August 1st. I hope you’ll join me!

366 Days of Yoga (Guest Post)

On August 17, 2015, to facilitate my quest to return to a regular yoga practice, I made a commitment to myself to practise yoga asana every day for 30 days.

This was not easy. It had been several years since I’d last enjoyed a regular yoga practice. I’d gained a lot of weight in the intervening years. I’d lost core & upper body strength and flexibility all over. And I was still carrying around heaps of mental baggage related to my previous yoga practice. Plus I had a lot going on in my life. Who had time for yoga? But I’d enjoyed a regular yoga practice once before. I knew the benefits. And I wanted them back. So I stuck it out.

downward facing dog pose

There were days when I only did restorative poses. There were days when my practice was only 5 minutes long. There were days when I scoured YouTube searching for routines that were light on upper body work, or just made up my own routine of standing poses only. (My shoulders and wrists were so weak, even downward facing dog was hard.) There were days when I didn’t roll out my mat until 2 o’clock in the morning and by that time was so exhausted all I did was meditate in legs up the wall pose. But I did it. Thirty consecutive days of yoga asana practice.

Then I thought, if I could practice yoga every day for 30 days, why not go for longer? Could I practice every day for 100 days? Could I practice every day for a year? So this became my new goal: one full year, 366 days (with this being a leap year), of daily yoga asana practice.

My practice still was not easy. My progress was slow. I continued to struggle with both mental and physical yoga demons. And I often despaired that my body was just too old now, too out of shape. I feared I was “over the hill” and would never get back what I had lost. But I kept showing up. I kept rolling out my mat every day, getting on it, and doing the practice.

And things started to change.

My body grew stronger and more flexible. I found myself able to execute the poses with increasingly greater ease. I discovered new (to me) instructors online teaching classes that challenge me in styles I enjoy.  And, slowly but surely, my attitude shifted as well.  Eleven months into my return-to-yoga journey my passion for the practice returned, and rolling out my mat every day became no longer a chore but a joy.

sun warrior

August 16, 2016 marked the achievement of my goal: one full year of daily yoga asana practice.
To celebrate, I took the entire day as a personal yoga retreat.

During my retreat I completed over 6 hours of yoga asana practice, including 4 energetic vinyasa-style classes each an hour or more in length.  One of these classes I had done before, 2 months previously.

The first time I’d tried this particular class had resulted in a lot of laughter.  Smooth transitions between poses?  Not so much. I’d flopped all over the place and experienced many, “What-the-what!? How is my leg supposed to get there?!” moments.  When I repeated the class on day 366 of my return-to-yoga journey, however, I was amazed at how far I had come. It was still a challenging class for me, but I was able to flow through it with much greater ease. I am so much stronger now than even two months ago. I’ve earned back almost all of the flexibility I lost during my years away from yoga, and I think I’m even stronger in the upper body now than I was a decade ago when I was last practising regularly.

Now, as I begin my second year of daily yoga asana practice, I roll out my mat every day excited for the opportunity to practice and grateful for the ability to move my strong body in these wonderful ways. I feel the beauty in yoga again. I feel the dance. I feel invigorated by my yoga practice and excited for what the journey ahead holds. And I am finding that the mental benefits I gain on my mat I am once again able to carry off the mat into the rest of my life.

Over the hill? Not a chance! I’m climbing an even higher mountain!

warrior II


Laura Rainbow Dragon writes, dances, cooks, runs, and makes wine–amongst other pursuits–in a way-too-small town in Southwestern Ontario.  She practices yoga every day and is grateful to once again be enjoying the journey.

Last Flight of the Murder – a Roller Derby Love Story (Guest Post)

On Saturday, July 19, 2014, at the ripe old age of 43, I skated my last game as a roller derby competitor.

Rainbow Dragon and Wicked Pissah team up to slow down, Photo courtesy of Joe Mac, Midnight Matinee Photography.

JoeMac-RainbowWicked caption: Rainbow Dragon and Wicked Pissah team up to slow down Highland Dames jammer Viola Streak. Photo courtesy of Joe Mac, Midnight Matinee Photography.

I blogged last year about my early experiences with roller derby, from lacing up my skates and donning protective gear for my first practice to working with my league mates at Crow City Roller Girls to present the first ever roller derby game in Chatham, Ontario. These were good times in my life. I loved skating with Crow City, and my life was enriched greatly by the experience. But alas, the old adage proved to be true of my favourite sport: roller derby is a harsh mistress.

Training to play this sport is a huge commitment. Add to this the large amount of work—all of it voluntary—required to run a successful league and many skaters are forced to conclude there is not room enough in their life for roller derby. In a league the size of Crow City, with so few shoulders available to carry the load, this problem is magnified.

As other skaters left us, I took on more and more of the work of running the league. Nobody forced me to do this. I accepted every new responsibility willingly because I loved the sport and loved my league and wanted it to succeed. I took on too much. I soon discovered I was sacrificing far, far too much of the rest of my life to play roller derby. And I could not continue to make those sacrifices. I needed to make a change.

That change came on October 31, 2013 when I resigned my membership in Crow City Roller Girls. It was a difficult, painful step to take, knowing that in walking away I was hurting people I loved and exacerbating the very problem which had driven me out. It was a step I took with a heavy heart and only because it was my only viable choice.

Not wanting to give up roller derby entirely, I then transferred my membership to a much larger league in London, Ontario: Forest City Derby Girls.

I loved training with Forest City. I loved being able to simply show up to practice and participate in drills prepared by other people, no longer required to plan and lead the practices myself. I loved training with a league so large we were able to scrimmage in practice almost every week. And I loved training under the guidance of Forest City’s excellent trainers who gave freely of their own time and expertise to help me improve my game.

I remained diligent in my efforts to keep my participation in the work of running my new league under control. Many hands make light work, and the size of Forest City enabled me to succeed in this regard. Commuting over 100km to attend twice weekly practices, however, proved to be too costly for me in both money and time (and this before I factored in the costs of travelling to away games). Six months after my transfer to Forest City Derby Girls I once again found myself searching for a new way to keep my involvement in roller derby alive.

Several members of the derby community had suggested refereeing to me in the past. They thought I would make a good “zebra” because I’ve always had a strong understanding of the many and often complex rules of our sport and I certainly possess the endurance required for the role. (Referees skate every jam.) I’d rejected these suggestions in the past because I was under no delusions that the role of roller derby referee is easy. It’s one thing to know the rules. It’s another entirely to be able to see them in action and read points and penalties on the fly as a fast-moving pack of skaters jockey for position on the track. I was already giving everything I could to the task of learning to be a better roller derby player. I knew I could not excel at both playing and reffing. But if I gave up playing roller derby? Could I develop the skills necessary to become a great referee then? Once again I needed to make a change. So I exchanged my rainbow stripes for black & white and decided to give it a try.

Southern Ontario is a great place to be a roller derby referee. We have many leagues who need officials for their games and many experienced and talented refs already in the area, willing and able to help train the next generation of zebras. I made the decision to join the zebra dazzle on May 3rd and reffed my first game on the 24th of the same month. Since that date, my officiating schedule quickly filled up, giving me opportunities to skate with many fine ref crews while still maintaining a travel schedule I could afford. My decision to join team zebra enabled me to keep skating, remain involved in a sport I love, and find that elusive but much-needed derby/life balance. It also sent me back to The Fresh and the Furious.

The Fresh and the Furious is a tournament for new skaters hosted by the GTA Rollergirls in Toronto, Ontario. I competed in The Fresh and the Furious IV in 2013 as part of Crow City Roller Girls’ tiny team of seven skaters. People thought we were crazy to skate with such a small roster, but my first year at Fresh was a wonderful experience I will always cherish.

Skaters may only compete in The Fresh and the Furious once, but my switch to team zebra enabled me to return to the tournament this year, skating once again on a crew of seven but this time as part of the much larger team of skating and non-skating officials required to oversee a full-day, two-track tournament.

Fresh V took place on July 12, 2014—2 years to the day since I participated in my first ever roller derby practice. I could not have hoped for a better “derbyversary” gift. It was a privilege to be chosen to officiate this tournament and a joy to work with such a talented crew, skating six games together over the course of the day.

Rainbow Dragon celebrates her 2-year derbyversary with The Meatgrinders officiating crew at The Fresh and the Furious V.

Rainbow Dragon celebrates her 2-year derbyversary with The Meatgrinders officiating crew at The Fresh and the Furious V.

The Fresh and the Furious is designed primarily to provide tournament play experience and learning opportunities to first year skaters, but I learned a lot my second year at Fresh, both about my new role in roller derby and about myself. Most importantly: I learned that I love refereeing every bit as much as I loved playing roller derby. Two years into my roller derby career the zebra’s stripes are feeling comfortable on this dragon’s skin and my future looks bright. Roller derby may be a harsh mistress, but I love her still.

Which brings us back to this past weekend and my final game as a roller derby competitor.

When I made the decision to become a referee I contacted the roller derby leagues closest to me to let them know I am reffing now and to ask them to keep me in mind when staffing their skating official crews. Of course my contact list included the league which birthed me into the world of roller derby: Crow City Roller Girls.

Alas, when I contacted Crow City they informed me that I would not have the opportunity to ref any CCRG home games. The remaining members of the league had been forced into the same decision I’d had to make last October: they could no longer sustain such a tiny league. Crow City would have no more home games. The league was folding. They did, however, have one final away game to play. Crow City Roller Girls invited me to join them for that final game, not as an official, but for one final time as a member of the team.

The location was far away. The timing was bad for some very big reasons. And I’d given up playing roller derby. I was a ref now. But how could I refuse to skate in the last flight of the murder?

Crow City’s final game would feature my former teammates Wicked Pissah and Abstract LabRat—derby sisters who’d gone through fresh meat training with me—as well as, of course, Greta Garbage—Crow City’s founder and the woman who introduced us all to roller derby. Skating alongside them would be Kara Scene—my own fresh meat who I’d helped train back when I was still leading practices for CCRG—and guest skater Ginsane Bruiser—the woman responsible for introducing Greta to roller derby. Four generations of skaters all on the track together, and I’d been invited to be a part of it!

Of course I said yes. Of course I, once again, asked everything else in my life to make sacrifices so I could play roller derby. Of course I joined additional guest skaters from Tri-City and Los Coños: Stacie Jones, REZISTA, Lalie Deadman, Reckless Rabbit and Amy Feral Foul-Her in filling out the Crow City ranks. Of course I made the trek to Alliston with this team, our bench staff Sweet Mother of Quad and Cruella DeKill—another freshie I’d helped to train—and Kozmic Khaos—yet another of my freshies, passed her minimums but sadly sidelined with a (non-derby) injury—who came to cheer us on from the suicide seats.

As much as Fresh V was a wonderful derbyversary gift, Crow City’s final game was an even greater retirement party. Everything about this game, from the coming together of our own team to the skill and sportswomanship of our opponents, Grey Bruce Roller Derby’s Highland Dames, from the hospitality of our hosts, Misfit Militia to the dedication of the referees, NSO’s, paramedics, announcers, photographers and bout production volunteers who worked a long night to make our game possible epitomized the very best of what roller derby can be.

Last Flight of the Murder: Crow City Roller Girls vs. Grey Bruce Highland Dames, Alliston Memorial Arena.  Photo courtesy of Joe Mac, Mignight Matinee Photography.

Last Flight of the Murder: Crow City Roller Girls vs. Grey Bruce Highland Dames, Alliston Memorial Arena. Photo courtesy of Joe Mac, Midnight Matinee Photography.

We had so much fun Saturday night, even the rain decided to get in on the action. By halftime the roof was leaking—right over the jammer line—forcing our NSO’s to run out onto the track before every jam to mop up the water and keep the track safe for us. It seemed a fitting send off for a league which trained outside in a parking lot.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to have been a part of Crow City Roller Girls’ final game. I skated every other jam, slapped the old star target on my helmet several times, and yet made it through the game without injury and (my new zebra teammates will be glad to know) without a penalty. I think, however, my proudest moment in the game came when I was blocking for rookie jammer Kara Scene. I managed to make a hole for her right at the jam start whistle, and Kara saw it, took it and earned a fast lead. Watch out derby world. You’ll be seeing a lot of Kara Scene’s backside as she blazes through your packs in the years ahead.

Alas, all things must come to an end, and the final whistle blew on the last flight of the murder all too soon. I weep at having to say goodbye a second and now final time to a league which gave so much to me and to which I gave so much of myself. But my sorrow is tempered with pride for everything the league accomplished in its two short years and comfort in the knowledge that Crow City’s legacy lives on. It lives on in every game I officiate. It lives on in the future derby careers of former league-mates who will move on to skate for new leagues. I think too it lives on in the lives of those who flew with us for a short while but ultimately decided there was not room in their lives, at least for now, for roller derby. This sport affects everyone it touches in ways big and small, and there are many—including myself—who might never have known the wonders of roller derby if not for Crow City Roller Girls.

All my love, respect and gratitude to the best murder of crows ever. We did good my friends. We did damned good.

The very best murder of crows: Crow City Roller Girls.

The very best murder of crows: Crow City Roller Girls.

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 the zebra dazzle and officiates roller derby games throughout Southern Ontario. Laura has moved house far too often but found a home she loves in the roller derby community.

Full Contact Over Forty (Guest post)

image

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.