For those of you who are unaware of my unpaid day job, I play roller derby. And by play, I mean breathe–which isn’t really playing at all, I suppose. And by job, I mean the thing that tends to occupy the majority of my days, and around which I plan everything else, including my actual day jobs. And all those everything elses.
I started this recreational pursuit when what I was involved in got too compulsive-without-reward for my spirit. I ran marathons for a while.
Once, in a seedy bar on corporate puke-laden Whyte Avenue in Edmonton, Billy Corgan gave me a hug. He asked me if I was a swimmer.
“No, I run marathons.”
He looked at me intently with his Watcher-like eyes and said, “Maybe we’re running from the same thing.”
Staring way up at him, I thought about that for a moment. Thought about how we could perhaps compare notes on shoe gazing, sweat wicking materials, sexual positions, favourite trail on a gloomy, introspective winter day. Then I realized I wasn’t running from something. I was running to it. I just didn’t know what it was yet. And ol’Billy was a little too lanky for my taste.
And then I broke my back. In hindsight, perhaps a bigger deal than I thought it was. I was snowboarding and did a hella butt check on some ice. I couldn’t sit right for weeks. But I was so intent on running that I failed to recognize this injury. I had qualified for the Boston Marathon and was doing some speedwork when I bent over to re-tie my shoe. And then I couldn’t stand up. Thinking something was clearly wrong but it would obviously pass, I walked 2km home from the University of Alberta, stooped over like I was looking for lost pennies.
Come morning, I still hadn’t found any pennies. When I turned up all bent over at class the next day to present my paper on the teratogenic effects of Vitamin A, my prof gently suggested I go to the doctor. Now she was a smart lady. Turns out I had herniated the disc between the L4 and L5 vertebrae. I was in traction 3 days per week and had to lay on my stomach for six months, upper body propped on a pillow, for anytime that I wasn’t doing anything other than school. It sucked. So I took up swimming. I considered it similar to laying down.
It wasn’t until my chiropractor did x-rays and discovered that I had broken L5 that we actually figured out why I had herniated that disc, and subsequently missed out on Boston. Until that chiropractic appointment, when he was giving me the why I shouldn’t-be-swimming-2-to-3-hours-per-day-with-tazer-like-back-pain-and-worsening-neck-pain-and-perhaps-I-was-pushing-myself-too-hard-vis-a-vis-what-are-you-running-from lecture, we actually didn’t know how the disc had herniated. But it had nonetheless. Now we knew how–on account of L5 being in 4 pieces (as compared to its usual singular existence). But not why.
People ask me why I started playing roller derby. I tell them it’s because I got sick of riding my bike by myself. I was riding my rollers (three rolling pins mounted to bars that you balance your bike upon) at 530 am in a dank basement. It was 30 degrees below zero outside, and not much warmer in my house, and I was contemplating whether I really wanted to take the next step in road racing. (That’s what you do when you’re up at 530 am and watching public television. You question your motives. Please not I have fast forwarded through how, for the sake of my neck and the fact that I hate swimming, I got out of the pool and onto a bike. Suffice it to say, I was still running in a sense, but now on two wheels. Running was EXCRUCIATING, so I hopped on a bike and set my sights on Nationals.)
I was going into my third racing season and weighing whether road racing was what I wanted to do. It took 20 hours a week out of my life. But my life wasn’t that exciting. I wasn’t particularly fond of my “teammates.” (Teammates in road races are essentially the people you use until the right moment when you blow by them and leave them to fend for themselves. Not exactly a team sport.) But I fancied myself a lone wolf and was reasonably good at spinning tires, so I kept running. Er, biking. Then I rapped my head off the pavement a couple times and needed to re-consider some things. I was considering these things when a woman, face painted like a jester, wearing a helmet and roller skates, appeared in front of me.
It’s 530 am. It’s cold. It’s dark. And a woman with a face painted like a jester wearing roller skates appears before you. You pay attention. I nearly fell off my rollers. Although I didn’t agree with her fashion sense, I was certainly intrigued by what she was explaining. She was talking about roller derby.
I got off my bike and ran upstairs. I’d received an AZRD tank for Christmas. I’d been spinning around on the internet and came across this roller derby thing. I thought it was cool. I liked punk. And art. And bashing people. And Bob Log. And anything not main stream. But I certainly didn’t think it was something that would happen in hockey-happy Canada. But it apparently was. And it was 17 blocks from my house. I called my coach, said thanks but no thanks. I was gonna play roller derby.
The first 6 months sucked. I didn’t know how to skate. We had to figure out insurance and policies and codes of conduct and facebook and skirt length and sexual orientation and holy FACK when do we get to play? And what’s this penalty wheel bullshit? I hated the half time show. Unless it was a local band. Then it was cool. But the penalty wheel? Jezuz. I was a friggin’ athlete. Maybe I didn’t skate like one, but I sure as shit wasn’t gonna hit another woman with a pillow in order to make the “fans” like me. Fuck that. I was gonna play like a warrior. People like warriors, right?