|Photo by Kent Smith|
Roller Derby, I Hate You
It was my 26th birthday. I had made the mistake of eating some of the surprise, happy birthday cake my sister left for me in the fridge for breakfast. Then the stomach flu I had been fending off for a few days decided to rear its ugly head. After spending the morning expelling chocolate vomit into the porcelain throne, I collapsed in a sickly heap in front of my computer hoping to spend a few hours perusing Facebook and delving into my spiral of illness. I had a new email from my team captain. In painfully halting sentences it explained to me that the progress I had shown thus far in my rookie year was insufficient to garner my eligibility for rosters with the team. This was a crushing blow. I had been attending every single practice; dedicating every spare moment to improvement, yet I had begun leaving practice every night exhausted and frustrated. I just wasn't seeing the improvement I had been expecting with the level of time I was committing. It was at that moment I was completely shocked to realize I hated roller derby.
The second that thought entered my head I was stricken with the most stunning guilt. I was harboring some kind of shameful secret. Everyone I knew loved The Derby. It is a sport built on so much selfless hard work and dedication; my teammates had spent years growing our league into a strong and stable force in the derbyverse. The taboo of hating such a thing stung! After trying to rationalize the emotional hailstorm I was wading through I made the deeply personal decision to allow myself a week of completely hating derby, no forced positivity and no strained optimism. I explained the concept to a few of my fellow rookies. All week long I was jokingly telling them every terrible thing that went wrong derby-wise was irrelevant because I hated Derby, it was the enemy.
Roller derby and I were in the midst of the biggest fight of our relationship. It felt like Derby was continuing to punish me for my hatred of it. That week escalated into a series of closeted altercations between myself and the sport. I accidentally high blocked another player directly into her face and was promptly and verbally put in my place for it. I went home crying and mentally flagellating myself for my sloppy playing. I love and adore my teammates so thoroughly, I contemplated forever hanging up my skates simply to spare them from my juvenile, underdeveloped skating skills I was certain would lead to one of them becoming seriously injured. Then, at my rookie class's first mixed scrimmage with a visiting team, I was ejected early on from the game for jumping at another player. My uncontrolled, sloppy playing struck again. I have never, ever experienced such shame and embarrassment in my life before. I was completely horrified. Not only had I entirely made a fool of myself but I felt I had also tainted my rookie class and my whole team with the stain of my very public disgrace. It's not hyperbole when I admit, it truly was the worst week of my life.
My seven days of roller derby hell afforded me some very surprising revelations. Much like a young child telling their parents “I hate you. I wish I was adopted. I'm going to run away from home.” my verbal and mental abuse toward roller derby clearly did nothing to injure the sport's sterling reputation in its own community. That week, every time I walked into practice, I left it all on the track. There is no self-pressure to perform when you are completing an activity simply to finish it. No looking back at the end of practice to seek mistakes and areas of improvement. No over-thinking of strategies or culminating derby dramas. I wrote Derby scathing hate notes, skipped the gym, ate junk food, defiantly cursed it internally during every second of endurance practice. It felt so amazing after months of pent up derby frustration to just hate the shit out of it. People get so burnt out in this community and I feel like it really needs to be said somewhere: You are allowed to hate roller derby sometimes. No relationship can be wine and roses all the time. Nobel laureate and author Elie Wiesel put it succinctly “The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference.” After talking to several veteran and retired skaters it became apparent that in order for someone to experience any type of longevity in this sport it requires enduring it through all the emotions that accompany a healthy and evolving relationship. Hatred is a passionate expression. It requires actually giving a fuck. Trying to deny the inevitable hatred and dislike that will sometimes accompany your love for this sport is seriously going to cripple your relationship with it. That week solidified to me, after months of struggling as a faltering rookie, I was where I was supposed to be. I feel a passion for this sport I can't fully explain. For better, for worse I love it. I'm sure I will have many more days in which I will despise Derby and sometimes dislike the way it is challenging and forcing me to grow as an athlete and overall as a human being. However I fully know the gains I have and will continue to experience are worth every moment of anguish and frustration felt out on the track.
It's okay Derby, I love you but I can hate you sometimes too.