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