There was one practice, back when I first started with SFVRD, where I was the only First Dater brave enough to show up to practice with the rest of the league. I felt nervous and excited to skate with the big girls for the first time, but the feeling soon turned to horror.
I was slow. Everyone had to wait around for me to finish the drill before moving on. I couldn’t stay on my skates. During scrimmage, I kept on getting separated from the pack and could not catch up. I just wanted to go to my car and cry.
But as we we’re gearing down, people made a point to come up and compliment me. Good hustle out there! You did a lot better than I did my first practice. You’re doing so much better! Keep it up!
I still went to my car and cried. Only it wasn’t about self-pity or frustration. I was overwhelmed by how much my league cared about me, how accepting and encouraging the sport of roller derby could be to a newbie. Skaters that I had never spoken to before went out of their way to say a kind word to a girl who wasn’t even sure she belonged there.
I think this was the moment that Shirley MacPain was born.
Shirley MacPain is braver than I am. She recognizes the importance of having fun in the face of failure. She can laugh at her mistakes and focus on whatever minuscule progress made rather than any shortcomings. She’s optimistic and patient, and what’s more, she’s crossed the line into my non-derby life.
Derby has made me into a better person. I feel more hopeful about my everyday life. I find myself biting back a snarky remark to say something encouraging instead. I ask a bunch of questions without worrying about how stupid I sound because it is so important to learn all the things.
But it is my league that taught me to be less cynical. That perhaps people are actually rooting for me instead of snickering at me behind my back. Even if I still can’t transition on my bad side going at pack speed, my teammates might feel legitimately proud when I hit someone out (ALL THE WAY OUT) without falling over or going out myself.
My league encourages me never to give up and to keep going. When I somehow manage to get lead while jamming and I hear my derby sisters cheer, I feel my soul lighten just a little. I’m thankful I didn’t let that one bad practice define me.
And because of that, my alter ego will always be there to take the track with a huge smile.