Two minutes is long enough to feel like your heart will explode but short enough that it won’t. It is the thin line between success and failure, winning and losing, losing it and keeping it together.
Two minutes. The length of the final jam of the last time I was ever on that track. Eight years… four bouts this season…59 minutes this game…all behind me. There I was. On that line wearing the same orange fishnet stockings I wore my very first bout. A “C” on my arm in permanent marker delineating me as the captain. I looked left and right for the strongest and weakest part of my line of teammates and theirs. I see them looking at me trying to read where I thought was the weakest. I start to squat, charging my back leg, and rock slightly in anticipation of the whistle as I count down the seconds. Three…two…one……..WHISTLE! At the same moment as that whistle I power every ounce of my body through the infinitesimal crack between to players which immediately closes when I get there. Pushing off right and pushing off left into the scrum of bodies and muscle and chaos. And then somehow, a foot gets between and then an arm and then my hips. I am low, my legs like springs know exactly how and when to push to propel me forward ducking past the last player and hearing those two whistles that tell me I am lead jammer. I am now in control. If I am fast enough and strong enough, and my team is fast enough and strong enough, then I will get through and the other jammer will not and that will have to happen two or three times for us to win. If I get stuck, or if she doesn’t then we will lose.
My stride lengthens as I pull out into the open space of the track. These few seconds, this openness, is all I have to catch my breath and rest my legs before hitting that gauntlet again. As I come around the turns I hear trackside fans shouting my name with an energy that is reserved for these moments in sports. These desperate, hope-filled moments where you believe that all your wishing will come true but you know that heartbreak is just as close as victory. I know that I’ve been here before. In these critical moments where I so desperately want to be the hero and only to be sent to the penalty box or get trapped in the sticky web of the black widows whose only job is to get in my way. But this time, I do not get stuck. I leap and dodge and push and grunt my way through again to the sound of an erupting stadium. Energy encompasses me but the fatigue in my body is setting in. As I exhale with a groan I let my head fall and my body relax just for microsecond as I set my jaw fill my burning lungs and push hard into my skates as I make the turns. Bracing for yet another trip into the melee, it is as if time slows down to a crawl as those iconic first synthesizer notes da-da-da-dummm da-da-da-da-dummmmmmm of “The Final Countdown” blares from the arena speakers. This. This is the movie moment that happens exactly once in a lifetime. And it. is. everything.
Into the pack again stumbling and fighting and groaning and grabbing and then through! Free again to the cheers of the crowd and the frantic jumping of my teammates at our bench. And as I glance up at the jumbotron with my name dancing around the bottom signifying I am lead jammer I see our score. I see their score. And I see the time. It is not enough. Everyone is screaming. The fans for us, the fans for them. Everyone is roaring. And there is nothing left to do but cry.
I was a derby girl. I was.
Every January I get very nostalgic about roller derby. The first home season bout means new team photos and trash talking floods my social media feed. Each year I recognize fewer and fewer faces in the photos, reminders that whatever legacy I thought I left with the team is nearly invisible now.
I knew I’d miss bout day. There is nothing like the feeling of being in that arena. The sights, the sounds, the crowd. My sister would come stay with me. My family would come for the bout and out to Major Goolsby’s for burgers and drinks after. Afterparties were epic. I knew I’d miss my teammates. For better or worse you see those teammates twice a week for about nine months a year. You start to count on them being there even when you’re not talking about anything but derby. Sometime you count on them because they only talk about derby.
But the thing I REALLY knew I’d miss was the label. Derby girl. It was the go-to topic. It was a unique, defining characteristic that made me memorable to people. It brought me lots of attention. I was even featured in local media a time or two. This picture was front page of the Journal-Sentinel sports section in January 2011.
Everything about my skater-self personified so many of the qualities I like best. My derby name, Super Hera, a thoughtful combination of easy theme (super hero) and deeper meaning (Hera = Queen of the Gods, protectress of women, goddess of marriage, fertility, and families, blesser of marital unions. Defining characteristics include her jealous and vengeful nature against mortals who cross her). Weaving together oufits that combined my signature orange color with my team’s signature hot pink to create something uniquely mine. Style over comfort to emphasize my best (ahem) assets. The widespread acceptance of derby language and vulgar jokes. Leader of the team, wearer of the star, center of the action. All of it just shy of too much making it exactly right. It was distinctive and memorable. It gave people an impression of me without telling them anything else about myself.
I stopped skating because I got tired. Practices became draining. Crowds were thinning. Several of the teammates I was closest with were retiring. We defied expectation making it to the top several years in a row, despite losing by just a few points. The next year, maybe the next several, would surely be a rebuilding year. I didn’t know that I wanted to hang in long enough to be at the top again. And, I had just signed up for Ironman. That yearlong goal would take so much time, even in the winter derby season. On my first date with Noel, well into our third bar, I explained my mixed feelings about retiring. When I said “what do you think?” he said without hesitation “it sounds like it’s time to retire.” He has never known me as a roller derby skater. Such a strange change from the past relationships that largely revolved around this status. It feels like another life. Sometimes that makes me sad.
In her podcast “Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations,” Oprah is tackling a ten-part series with the author of A New Earth: Awakening Your Life’s Purpose, Eckhart Tolle. Oprah calls the book “one of the most important books of our time” and the author describes the book’s purpose as “not to add new information or beliefs to your mind or to try to convince you of anything, but to bring about a shift in consciousness.” The shift in consciousness, he argues, is comes from remaining grounded in the present moment and not attaching to material possessions and labels.
He talks about the concept of ego differently. Instead of being a synonym for narcissism, he says it is our “illusory sense of self based on one’s memories and thoughts.” For most, what makes up “I” or the idea of “who I am” is a mental image that is constructed from memories, successes, failures, things that happened to you. Eckhart argues that this mental image of things past and things to come do not define us. Neither do our roles in life or our opinions. These are just thoughts. Who we really are is contained in moments of presence and aliveness. Those moments on the track demanded 100 percent of my presence and aliveness. Some of the other aspects of roller derby didn’t.
“We were nostalgic for a time that wasn’t yet over.” ~ Nina LaCour, We Are Okay
Sometimes it makes me sad that those exact moments are over but there is infinite possibility for moments that embody the essence of me. A life overflowing with moments like that will be so much richer than a life with only a handful of epic movie moments.