Written by HOYH’s Director of Creative Therapies, Katrina Mendizabal
“I cannot possibly do more. She’s so much better than me. I wish I could do that. You’re asking me to do what?”
Sound familiar? We have all said at least one of these at different times in our lives. In fact, I said every single one of them in the same night during a brutal two hour roller derby practice. Ever heard of Roller Derby? This competitive roller skating sport incites many reactions but for me it comes down to these: sweat, tears, hitting, sisterhood, earning the right to name yourself (cool names like Banshee, Swizzle, and my own – Wild Fire), butts that defy gravity, great workouts, sore feet, and battle worthy bruises.
Sounds awesome, right? Derby rule basics can be explained like this: Two teams race around a track. Each team has 5 players. That five is made up of 4 Blockers (called a Pack) and one Jammer. The Jammer tries to get through the opposing Pack, whose job is to stop her. Once free of the pack, she races ahead until she laps the group and begins the hip and shoulder checking to break through again. Points are awarded for each opponent the Jammer passes. Still a bit hazy? Ever seen the movie “Whip It” with Drew Barrymore, Ellen Page, Kristen Wiig and Juliette Lewis? This’ll give you a better idea of what it looks like. [Just remember that Hollywood’s version of Derby isn’t entirely accurate…]
My journey with roller derby started a couple years ago, and it’s been a long and difficult process to become an initiated team member. But that struggle was worth every hard moment because of the many things I’ve learned along the way. The two most powerful lessons I’ve learned (so far) from skating on 8 wheels are: How to fall, and how to love myself more.
How to fall is one of the first skills you learn in roller derby, because it’s the most important. You build everything else you need to be a good player on that foundation. The coaches want to make sure your body learns the best way to catch itself because you will be falling. A lot. And I mean, A LOT. During one practice we were learning how to do transitions (turning around while still moving), and I kept falling and falling and falling. I was getting so frustrated and muttered to myself, “If I fall down one more time, I will not get up.” A veteran skater rolling by heard me and said, “Fall down 7 times, stand up 8!”
At first I didn’t even comprehend what she was saying, but she continued, “We have all been where you are, we all know what that feels like. And no matter how many times you fall, you learn to get back up again.” And off she went as if she hadn’t just rocked my whole world with that one line. And as I kept thinking, I realized how veteran skaters seem to get up so much more quickly and easier, while it felt like a Herculean effort every time I tried to get back to my feet. There was something here, and it begins first with how to fall, because it’s in the art of “how” that helps you rise afterward.
How To Fall
Derby women are required to wear safety gear; knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards and a helmet at all times. Secondly, we learn how to do different kinds of falls: There’s the one knee fall, double knee fall, and falling on all fours. Thirdly, we learn to always fall forward, as it’s easier to catch yourself and less likely to injure something. Fourthly, keep your hands in a fist so your fingers don’t get run over. And finally, rise up again.
The main reason we spend so much time learning how to fall and practicing the best ways to do so safely isn’t to stop us from falling. Nothing can. But strapping on our gear and using the tools we have helps us rise up faster and faster each time. If I’m not falling, I’m not learning, and I’m not pushing myself to try new things. And that’s exactly the place where real happiness and fulfillment exist. As I kept repeating the phrase like a mantra, “Fall down 7 times, stand up 8,” I couldn’t help but think about the other areas of my life where it applied. It’s not about avoiding the fall but giving yourself tools to fall safely, to make getting back up again a little easier. I was amazed to realize that because I learned how to fall, I was no longer afraid to fall. When you fall long and often enough, but with a plan of how get up again – this is the amazing consequence: Fear leaves the door wide open to Hope.
Off the rink, HOYH is one of those “fall safely” tools for me. It gives me emotional skills to protect my heart and guide me back up again after each stumble, and a tribe that encourages me constantly. When I’m down and out, taking a long kayak trip on the lake or guiding a group through whitewater on the Snake River helps remind me how strong and capable I am; breathing the fresh air helps me calm down and be in the moment. Laughing with my family and cuddling my dog Max gives me added comfort and a break from feeling pain. The sisterhood of roller derby include some of the most supportive people I have ever met. Unlike other sports where competition between individuals is fierce, derby veterans want newer skaters to succeed. They teach, coach, support, help the newbies (called #freshmeat) all the time! I wish society was based off of a roller derby team – lifting each other up instead of bringing each other down. Not to mention being able to hip check someone who deserves it. 🙂
How To Love Myself More
Roller Derby has also taught me some of the strongest self-love. Here’s the thing about derby athletes: They come in all shapes and sizes, and regardless of size they can kick your trash! They can do 27 laps around a rink in 5 minutes (a ridiculously hard feat, let me tell you), fall down 100 times and get back up, knock each other down over and over – all with a smile on their face. The amount of acceptance in roller derby is stunning and not something I have found elsewhere except for HOYH. I used to look in the mirror and only see my flaws. I used to walk down the street wishing I looked differently. And honestly, it’s still a struggle most days. But because of derby, there are now times I look in the mirror and smile. I smile at my thunder thighs and big butt, I’m becoming proud of my body and comfortable in my own skin because of what it can do – all because of the confidence I see in others on and off the track. I know there will be a day that I will look in the mirror and see only how stunningly awesome I really am. I can’t wait for that day…
Surround yourselves with people who remind you how amazing and powerful you really are. Do what it takes to learn what skills work for you to help you get up easier after each fall. Let go of what’s holding you back. And check out your local Derby community and attend a match for a front row seat of what it looks like to live unafraid! Then go home and strap on your safety pads; life is about to get all kinds of possible…