I was afraid. Always afraid.
Afraid of someone making fun of me. Afraid of falling in front of everyone. Afraid of falling in front of everyone and hurting myself. Afraid of falling in front of everyone and hurting myself and crying. Afraid that I wouldn’t be good enough. Afraid of how I would feel about myself after finding out I wasn’t good enough.
And I went for it anyway.
I moved to Worcester from Springfield, IL exactly three years ago. I went from living and working in the same square thirty miles to complete and total anonymity. It was glorious to walk into a store or office and know that I would not run into someone who had had a run-in with my mother and wanted me to apologize for it. It was awesome to know that no one knew anything about my past failures, that there were no exes, no former coworkers, no relatives of former coworkers, no next door neighbors who were now coworkers, no one. No one at all knew me.
That made for a clean slate, but also made for an empty social calendar. Not having any friends meant no one to explore the new city with, as my husband moved here with a job to go to, and I didn’t. I’m not a very outgoing person, in either the social sense or the exploring sense. I need a safety setting, a backup plan and lots of escape routes in case something goes wrong. Instead, I sat at home and read as much about the city as I could while I was curled up under a blanket with my dog, Georgia. She’s a very good girl.
Back home, two very good friends of mine had joined Springfield’s roller derby team in 2011 (hey Slaychel Lindsay and Betty Minefield, heyyyyy) and they wanted me to join as well. I was too afraid and never even made it to a meet and greet. After two months of talking to no one in person but my husband, I had enough courage to go.
Just getting to the practice space is a huge test of courage, because everything about the warehouse says that it will murder you and your ghost will haunt the basement. It’s a very creepy warehouse filled with odd hoarder-like piles of garbage and disembodied HVAC parts. Steel plates cover gaping holes in the floor and tarps act as gutters indoors. In the summer, tar from the roof oozes down to form long, stringy stalactites on the ceiling.
In the winter it’s cold. Nothing poetic to add to that. Just going twice a week to practice was the bravest thing I had ever done.
Learning to skate again wasn’t easy. It had been quite a long time since my days at the Eight Wheeler for grade school skate nights. The first time I strapped on my gear and took my first lock-kneed lap on the track, I silently told myself not to fall. I made one successful lap and promptly did a fully splayed out Superman slide on my stomach. I was afraid that they would laugh at me, but no one did. They didn’t even look up from fitting their knee pads correctly.
Instead I found an amazing group of women who were equally as afraid of the same things I was, and they would never, ever make fun of someone for that. Instead, we cheered each other on and gave each other tips on how we could really nail that T-stop next time. I had never been surrounded by so much positivity before, and had never been so supportive to others before either.
All those things I was afraid of? They happened. I fell in front of everyone when I didn’t intend to fall. I fell in front of everyone when I didn’t intend to and hurt myself. I fell in front of everyone when I didn’t intend to, hurt myself, and cried in front of everyone. And it was fine. No one thought any less of me. They were too concerned for my well-being.
I found out I wasn’t good enough. I found out how I would feel about myself when I found out I wasn’t good enough. It was just as deeply crushing as I was afraid it would be. But I still faced it.
The trap many Fresh Meat fall into is comparing themselves to others and feeling bad for not being as good. The secret is to focus only on what you are doing, and convince yourself that you will get it right if you keep trying.
Because you will.
There is no deep profound secret to mastering a physical skill. Just focus and practice. Repeat. I focused on what my feet and butt were doing and telling myself that each time I tried something, it was better than the last time.
Because it was.
Because I was better.
Because I kept practicing.
When it came time for the Fresh Meat assessments, I was not nervous at all. I knew I wasn’t going to pass, and that was fine. I still needed to build my skills before I moved on to contact skating. I had no pressure whatsoever, because there is no failing in roller derby; there is only not-succeeding-yet.
But I did succeed. I passed my assessment and could remove the red “don’t hit me!” tape and replace it with green “yes please hit me!” tape.
It’s not the end of my story, and there were many, many more moments of not succeeding yet that came after – heartbreaking, life-changing not-succeedings. But I haven’t failed; I’m just starting over at the beginning, working on succeeding again. And I am no longer afraid.
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