I remember my first morning at boot camp as clear as day. I jumped in the car at 7 a.m. with brand new skates and gear, parked in the lot at Riverworks with an equal mixture of fear and excitement, and walked into what would become my second home. I wasn’t able to attend the first practice because of a summer vacation, so I was anxious (and a little nervous) to get started and catch up on everything I missed that last week.
Like most of the other girls, I had no experience on skates. No worries, our coaches told us — many of the current skaters started out the same way. Boot camp is designed to introduce the basics of skating, from stopping and balancing to transitioning and skating stride.
As the weeks passed and I grew more comfortable on 8 wheels, I set my sights on being drafted. I knew that the only way I’d have a chance at successfully completing assessments was to practice, so I spent as much time as possible on skates. Open skate at Rainbow Rink? I was there. Extra daylight after work? I was skating on the bike trails near my house. Dark after work? Skates on in the basement it was. And guess what: it paid off!
Although I had only begun skating 2 months prior, I was drafted onto the Alley Kats – a fierce team, determined to claim the QCRG Cup Champion title for the first time in their history. There I was – a brand new player with virtually no experience on skates, attending team and league practices with people who actually knew what they were doing. Quite frankly, I was terrified.
I know what you’re thinking – “Fergie, this is what you wanted! You practiced so much to be chosen for a team and you were! How could you be upset?” You’re right. Being drafted was my goal – a goal I had worked incredibly hard for and was proud of accomplishing! I had fast-tracked my way through boot camp and successfully made it through the nerve-wracking draft. But I had left my boot camp friends behind. Which, to me, was really scary.
Nevertheless, I packed up my stinky derby gear twice (sometimes three times) a week to conquer my fear of looking silly in front of the veteran skaters. It didn’t take long for me to understand that I wasn’t alone – everyone on the track battles their own demons – but we were all there as one league, working together to overcome our obstacles. Boot camp had allowed me to become comfortable on skates. League and team practices taught me something much more valuable – how to be comfortable with myself.
The mixture of excitement and fear made my first couple of weeks as a home team player incredibly difficult, yet equally rewarding. Was I intimidated? Heck yes! But the intimidation quickly turned into admiration – by immersing myself in an unfamiliar landscape with skilled players, I learned the rules of gameplay and grew even more awestruck by the complexity and strategy of the sport. I became aware of the incredible support team that is QCRG and started to view my flaws as opportunities to work on rather than hindrances to performance. And to me, this is what roller derby is all about – finding that courage within yourself to jump out of your comfort zone, persist through what initially feels impossible, and tackle the obstacles that are in your way to success.
Fast forward through a tailbone injury, too many falls to count, and plenty of hearty hits. I’m just under 6 months into my derby journey, and I am at a completely different place (mentally and physically) than when I started. Derby has changed my life in an incredible way. Through the struggles and challenges, I’ve developed into a healthier, happier, and more confident person. The path that has led me here has been filled with frustration, excitement, and nervousness. And if I had to do it over, I wouldn’t change a thing.
So here I sit, writing this blog to an audience that either stumbled on it by accident or is somehow connected to derby. Maybe your friend plays. Maybe you’re considering playing. Maybe you’ve made the commitment and enrolled in boot camp. Whoever you may be, I think there’s an important message behind the game, something that it didn’t take me long to learn. Derby is more than just a sport – it’s a family. Derby doesn’t care whether you’re small or tall or fast or aggressive. It’s blind to color, to race, to identity. It’s welcoming to everyone that wants to be a part of it, whether that be on the sidelines cheering on a friend, at the penalty box keeping time, or out on the track, plowing through the opposite team. As long as you have the desire to succeed and the persistence to tackle the obstacles you’ll inevitably face, there is a place for you.