I've been wanting to write a blog on being a disabled skater since we started the blogs. I've always run into the problem of where to start and where to finish. There really is no start or finish when you're disabled. There's no success story where your disability becomes obsolete. It just... becomes less impairing, or you find ways to accept the limitations, the plateaus, and the areas that you will never be able to be 100% at. It never sounded motivating enough or positive enough when I tried to construct it in my head to sit down and write it. You see, I'm not one of the exceptional people with disabilities. You know the ones I'm talking about, where you see motivational memes or videos of them doing extraordinary physical feats despite having a prosthetic leg or something else physically limiting. Just like normally-abled people, there are people in the (dis)abled community that are exceptional, and those that are just run-of-the-mill people. So I can't say that this blog will have a happy, victorious ending, but I can say that it was something that I finally felt motivated to write. To any other disabled skaters out there, I hope you find something in this that resonates with you and helps you to keep skating.
Being totally honest, I was going to write this blog before Rollercon. Something that I didn't tell anyone prior to Rollercon, despite being exhilarated about participating in the "Mecca" of derby, I was downright terrified. I was worried that Washington had pampered me and protected me. Pretty much everyone on the eastern part of the state, knows I'm disabled. They know that my stride looks a little jacked up and I'm not the most reliable blocker because of it. Everyone that I've skated with to this point in time had been nothing but overwhelmingly positive and reassuring. I skate with two different leagues and have skated in multiple scrimmages with people from multiple leagues. They all find ways to work with me somehow. I was waiting for my luck to roll out when I got to Rollercon.
It wasn't that I was expecting negativity from the derby community. I was just expecting society to leak in, if that makes sense. As a disabled person, there are times in my life where people give me this "are you sure you want to do that?" kind of look. Better yet, when people catch my muscle spasms and the shock, the confusion, the pity, and sometimes humor that plays across their face is hard to miss. Even though I've spent most of my life playing it off with jokes, it still seeps into my psyche to create seeds of doubt and discomfort. While I was at Rollercon, I skated a couple of bouts and a couple of scrimmages. I kept waiting for the questions... "Why does your foot drag?"... "Why can you drive someone so much better to this side?"... I kept waiting for the looks of disdain that would tell me that these people didn't want to skate with me because of my disability.
The looks never came. Clearly, the questions didn't either. For the first time in my athletic career (across numerous sports and two decades), I didn't feel like anyone needed an explanation about it. No one looked at me as if I was a burden they needed to carry. I mean, for all I know they said something about it later, but I'm just going to live in my little bliss bubble over here and assume they didn't. The support and acceptance of this community never ceases to amaze and inspire me. We all know that derby is a soul saver and accepts the minorities that are traditionally drawn to derby, such as the LGBTQ community. I never expected derby to be accepting of the (dis)abled community. Partially just due to the fact that it is a sport that requires full control of all body parts. I have been waiting two years in anticipatory fear to hear someone, somewhere say something negative about my disability and how it makes me a terrible derby player. To have someone doubt my ability to participate or reject me because of the disability.
In two years of derby, all I've gotten is overwhelming support, encouragement, and love. My teammates have watched my leg give out on me numerous times in practice. They all watched my left leg slide out on my underpush (causing me to fall) in the last couple laps of my 27/5 for months. They have all seen the bruises on my knuckles from not being able to pull my left hand up fast enough when I fall. I'm pretty sure all of my teammates (as well as most of the local derby folk) have seen me frustrated to the point of giving up because my leg is not cooperating. Most of my teammates have seen my disability bring me to tears because of those frustrations. Yet, all of my teammates (and everyone in derby) just keeps encouraging me. Keeps pushing me. Everyone in the derby community builds me up in unimaginable ways just by not giving up on me. By taking the time to work with me, to skate with me, to coach me, they continue to motivate me when I have no motivation myself. My teammates and other people I play with even try to identify ways that they can improve working with me in walls. Roller derby and this miraculous community has managed to simultaneously rip open old wounds and heal them completely. I get that I sound like I've drank the kool-aid of some cuckoo cult, but hear me out.
One common thing I tell people who are newly entering the (dis)abled community, or people that are interested in it, is that there is a grieving process. A grieving process of the body you could have had if you had been born normal, or things that you once could do that you are no longer able to due to a disability that develops over a lifespan. When I was growing up, my parents were very much about the athletics, and I had an older brother who was a really good athlete. Needless to say, young child me wanted nothing more than to be an athlete. Place some innate perfectionistic tendencies on that, and you've got the beginning of my grieving process. When I was younger, and dumber, I had no way to explain the self-hatred that I was experiencing toward my body. I so badly wanted to do everything, and at every turn, my disability was reminding me that I would always be inadequate... handicapped. I grieved for never being able to hold things properly in my left hand, to never be able to walk without a limp. Heck, I even grieved never having a chance to be a professional basketball player at 7 or 8.
The life I have chosen to live has led me through numerous cycles of the grieving process. Enter roller derby. When I was first recruited, I had turned the girls down. This was partially due to being in school, and partially due to the fear of perception of my disability. When I decided to start roller derby, I knew it was going to rip the grieving process wide open. I honestly don't know how anyone who witnessed me skate for the first six months, ever thought I was going to play roller derby. I can't even imagine how horrific it looked. The dames always managed to find my little growths to compliment me on and to celebrate the victories with me. Somehow this group of women (and this community) has never given up on me. Up until the past six months, there had been frequent nights of cursing my leg, wishing for a new one, and plenty of tears to sink the Titanic.
Yet, over the past six months, it's gotten easier to bear. My disability doesn't seem as impairing. Don't get me wrong, I still can't watch footage of myself because all I can think is "Will someone take that horse out back and shoot it," but that feeling is subsiding in the moment though. I still feel pretty vulnerable when we play new teams or when I play with new people. I think its residual life expectations and societal expectations of how a (dis)abled person will be treated. The roller derby community is the first place I feel like people recognize my disability, accept it, and figure out a way to make me persevere within it. I can't honestly say I've felt that way in any other community or group. There is literally no "give up" button with these women, and they don't allow me to have one for myself either. They make me feel comfortable with my disability, which is an odd feeling because I used to feel like Quasimodo trying to hide it. Yep, the derby community is totally my Esmeralda and is teaching me to embrace myself and life. So to those of you who have been derbying it up with me, thank you from the bottom of my heart for accepting me and my disability. Your acceptance, continual support, motivation, and love really are the core features of this sport and this community we've built for ourselves.
Lady McDeath #22
First of all, let me apologize that it's been so long since our last blog post. Life happened, we all got busy. The blog posts will be back in full swing though! So with that, let's kick off the New Year with a new blog post!
As many of you know, this time of year is a time to evaluate how the past year has gone and how we would like to improve over the next year. The first of January is a marker that everyone can understand and it's easier than setting a random arbitrary date as a reset button on goals. It also happens to be the beginning of our season. So it's even better for us to review the past year and set goals for the new one.
In review of this past year, obviously it's been an amazing one because we've been part of our derby family. That's not to say that this past season didn't come with some bumps and bruises on the way. It was what I would like to refer to as a "growth season." Now, I know all seasons are growth seasons, but there are always those seasons in sports where more people move to different teams or different coaching staff or different strategy. This season was spent building up enough skaters to supplement our current bouters and get a full roster. In doing so, it was instantly a season that required more learning because there were more new bouters than I would assume is average. There has been a feeling out process to find where many of us new skaters fit in roles that help us contribute to the league. We also lost some very wonderful skaters this year. Sometimes, after the loss of a skater, it felt like our leg had been amputated. It emphasizes the importance of each skater to this well oiled machine. There are numerous adjustments that need to be done to compensate and fill the role that that individual filled.
We competed hard but had a couple hard upsets this year that required us to not only learn more about derby, but to learn more about each other in terms of how each person copes with the upsets. We've made numerous adjustments to how we play and operate with each other. So, as I said before, this year definitely seemed like a huge growth year. This league is so much stronger than RHDD was when I joined a little over a year ago. Even being relatively new (seeing as how we have some skaters that have been with the league over three years), I have still been able to witness the level of growth and strength that RHDD has accumulated.
Our direction for the future is pretty clear. We plan to hone the skills and lessons we've learned this year. To become stronger as individual players and as a team. We've set our team goals to mainly improve how we work with each other. After all, you can try to play derby alone, but you won't get very far. We plan to learn individual strengths and weaknesses for each skater and build on and compensate for those. We plan to play our game and no one else's. I won't go into full detail of the specific goals that we've set out in case competitors are reading this. I'd hate to give away our trade secrets or ways that we've changed for this season before anyone plays us. But I will tell you this, you can expect to see a better RHDD hit the track every time, you can expect us to work efficiently together (even better than before), and you can expect us to be a hell of a lot of fun.
Lady McDeath #22
In honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (NEDAW) which occurred this past week, I decided to write about how roller derby can affect body image. It's not hard for any woman to realize what mainstream culture has told her about what her body should look like, what she should do to improve it, and how she is a failure if she doesn't meet the mainstream classification of beauty. There are plenty of articles about developing positive body image and combating mainstream ideals. They've even started to look into ways to change how toys are produced to little girls, like the controversial proportional Barbie that is currently in developmental stages.
Yet despite all of the awareness that has been raised, women are still struggling with body image dissatisfaction and eating disorders due to still being bombarded every day with advertisements that are "Killing Us Softly" in the famous words of Jean Kilbourne. I'll admit there are numerous reasons that I joined roller derby and weight loss was initially one of them. I, like over 50 % of the female population struggle with body image issues. Roller derby has changed the composition of my body in some ways but according to mainstream belief, I'm still fat. Roller derby has not changed my body as much as I initially hoped, but it has changed my mind in some ways.
When you look at RHDD, you see most body shapes and you know what, these dames still kick serious roller derby ass. All of these women, regardless of weight or shape, demonstrate strength, power, pride, athletic ability, and beauty. Roller derby has allowed many (I'm assuming) to be confident in their own skin at least on a semi-regular basis. How can you not be when you know you can skate a 27 in 5 or knock some girl off her skates? This isn't to say that it isn't still something that women in the roller derby community struggle with, but it at least demonstrates that you don't have to be "skinny" to be an athlete. All of these women skate at least four hours a week and many work out off the track too.
Yet, it's not just about the fact that these women are all athletes. These women also build each other up. There are so many compliments that come out over the course of derby gatherings whether its complimenting someone's butt or complimenting someone on gaining an extra pound or two (because yes, some girls do want to gain weight and we should appreciate everyone's body). There is constant body positive feedback with the RHDD girls on the track and really wherever we go because damn, you can be downright sexy (as we all are) anywhere, wearing anything (or nothing if that floats your boat), and with any body shape. So skip going to the gym, skip the fat-shaming pinterest and fitspo (because you can have that cupcake if you want to without it ruining your body), skip all the nay-sayers, and find roller derby where women appreciate real women with real bodies and work on building each other up instead of tearing each other down. Oh, and when we aren't on the track we LOVE to eat and drink because we are real people who need sustenance that a calorie restricted diet can't provide.
When I walked into my first freshmeat practice with Rolling Hills Derby Dames, all I could think was "Oh shit, what am I getting myself into?" I had known about roller derby for about two years and had multiple people trying to recruit me for another team when I was attending my Master's program. I admit, I made plenty of excuses. I told them I couldn't afford it, that I didn't have the time, and that I wasn't sure if derby was for me. In all honesty, the one thing that held me back the most, was the fear that my friends who were recruiting me would reject me after discovering I was a crap player (but everyone is when they first start). I also wouldn't be able to handle the embarrassment of quitting because I knew people on the team.
Fast forward to moving to Pullman, after two years of me hiding behind pathetic excuses. I finally thought maybe it was time to give this whole roller derby thing a shot. After all, I've been trying to lose weight since starting college (five years ago) and can't do mundane workouts like running. I knew I needed a sport and individuals to push me. I convinced myself for about two weeks that I wouldn't care what other people thought during that first practice because hey, I didn't know them, so their opinions meant nothing. Even with two weeks of saying that to myself, they still meant something. I walked in and probably looked like a lost puppy dog or at least that's what I felt (you'd have to ask someone if I actually did). I was standing there for two minutes without knowing where to go or what to do. I almost bailed. But right as I was about to run and erase roller derby from my mind, TaKillya Rose turns around, introduces herself, and points me for the gear. Whew, first barrier crossed. Someone noticed me, so no bailing now. I was fitted for gear, geared up, and attempting to stand in no time.
To say that first practice was rough would be an understatement. I hurt everywhere within the first 20 minutes, my legs were shaking, I was embarrassed by my lack of shape coordination, and beating myself for being stupid enough to think I could do this. There was one thing that made it possible for me to survive that first practice: Krissy Kurbstomp. I can't even begin to explain how positive this woman is and how great of a freshmeat coach she makes. She was there making encouraging statements every couple minutes, reminding us that we were already improving, and cheering us on while we were going through the physical and emotional torment that is your first freshmeat practice (and she knows how awesome this is because I rave about it at every party). That was my first impression of derby, and she sure as hell made sure it was a good one despite how utterly horrible I felt. I can't say if my first experience elsewhere would have been quite this great because I think others would have had different expectations of me and I would have had different expectations of myself.
I can say that the positivity hasn't left since that first practice. At every practice, I hear encouraging comments from at least five different teammates. I've had every teammate make an effort to help me at least once, with some helping almost every practice. I had teammates start initiating hang outs and making me feel like things wouldn't be the same without me there (one of the most self-centered thoughts I have). Even when I broke my finger and couldn't skate, my teammates were encouraging me. I have to say this is actually the most positive, supportive sporting experience I've ever had (I was a three sport athlete in high school). It's been about five months since the first time I put skates on and the positivity and support hasn't gone away (and I don't think it ever will). I went from being a complete and total stranger to these girls to part of their family in a month. They had no reason to accept me, but they did with arms wide open. Have I drank the RHDD Kool-aid? Maybe. Does it taste good? Hell effing yes. Should you drink the RHDD (or just roller derby in general) Kool-aid? That's your call, but I don't think you'll find a closer, more supportive, fun-loving group of friends than derby family.
Lady McDeath #22