I’m glad the video has been well-received and I didn’t say anything too stupid in it. I wasn’t going to do the filming at first, but my friend Izzy convinced me that I should.
Before I started derby I searched online for hours, trying to find some sign that there could be a place for a hijab-wearing, extremely sober and overall odd person like me in the sport.
I did the video hoping that I could be the sign for someone else.
I’ve thought of a great new skate out.
Now I just need to complete my transfer, go to practice, make attendance and improve enough to get rostered to a team so I can show it off.
I’ve never really been to a gym. I couldn’t afford it, and the gyms in my area were limited anyway. There were the manly men gym for being manly, the gym for older ladies who want to stay active with the grandkids, and the expensive chain gyms for busy people with lots of money. Since I fall into none of those categories, my fitness regime has been limited to what I can do at home.
However, now that I’m in Leicester, a whole new world of fitness opportunities have opened up to me. Specifically, affordable fitness facilities aimed at women.
My first foray into the new world was a bit of a joke. I went to a yoga class that was eagerly described to me as “only one pound!”. Well, if you will go to a £1 yoga class, I guess you should expect yoga that is worth £1. The highlight of the class was when the sound of us throwing out breath through the nose was interrupted by someone behind me asking for a tissue.
The gym has proved a much better venture. I turned up to my kick boxercise class not knowing what to expect. There were about twenty women of varying ages, all chatting as they waited to begin. They were all dressed in sports clothes which was reassuring. The instructor was tiny, almost waiflike, and unremarkable to me until she flipped the music on (LOUD), and jumped into the routine with an incredible attitude.
The rest of the class was made up of regulars and it took me a while to pick up the general movements which set kickboxing motions in a surprisingly strenuous aerobics workout.
Halfway through we took a break and one of the women started a conversation with me.
“you look too young to be twenty three,” she said when I told her my age.
“It’s because all this sweat has given me a youthful glow,” I said.
I absolutely loved the energy of the class. Everyone was pushing themselves - and each other - as far as they could. There was no room for slacking or taking it easy; everyone was 100% committed to being there. It was hard work - the kind that would have been abandoned after fifteen minutes if I’d been on my own - but it felt worthwhile.
Since it’s taking a while for me to get myself together with derby, for now I shall just try and get my fitness up. Other classes involve power yoga, zumba and circuit training. Perhaps the time has come for me to become… a gym brat.
The Blitz Dames have a good relationship with the Dollies and they frequently visited for scrims and bouts, so when I realised I would have to switch teams, I was relieved that I wouldn’t be skating with complete strangers.
The Dollies knew I was planning to attend practice, but I have an odd paranoia about attending events with skaters that don’t know me so I still felt nervous.
That said, as I went through the familiar motions of getting ready for a practice, putting on my skating clothes and tying up my hair, I felt a sense of calm. It was the first time in a long time that I’d felt like Daphne du Gorier, and I’d missed it.
As most of the league were bouting at an away game it was a quiet practice with the advanced skaters enjoying a free skate. This was perfect for me to chat to a few people and assess myself. With every lap I felt more confident and relaxed.
The Dollies are not the Dames. They don’t all know me, laugh at all my jokes no matter how bad, and ask me when I’m going to update my blog. They are, however, really friendly and welcoming. I hope we’ll have a lot of fun together and I can make some more awesome derby friendships.
For now, I need to be assessed before I can skate more than once a week. I have an inkling that this is a good thing as in all the excitement at the end of practice I forgot about that small but crucial thing called stretching.
I didn’t start roller derby to make friends. Really, I didn’t imagine there would be a space for me in the sport or the culture. I didn’t really think anyone involved in roller derby would want to know me.
My first impression of the Birmingham Blitz Dames, when I stumbled into their first practice, was that these women were vivacious, confident and dedicated to their sport and that I would always be an outsider.
It’s funny how these things work out, isn’t it?
Since that first muddled practice, a lot has changed, but the Dames remain a league powered by an unstoppable upwards force. They never rest on their laurels and are constantly striving to improve and bring a high standard to everything they do.
More than this, the Dames are full of life. They are chock full of passion, drive and ambition toward derby, as well as everything else. I’ve never known a group of women so overflowing with talent, wisdom and creativity, and so willing to share it.
For me, whether it’s just seeing one of my derby sisters for lunch, going to a regular practice or taking a road trip to a bout, any time with the Dames feels like coming home.
Which is why it breaks my heart that my time with the Dames has, for now, come to an end. This month I’ve moved away from Birmingham and will have to look for another league, closer to my new nest.
It may be naive, but somehow I think the friendships I’ve made will endure, even if we’re no longer trying to knock each other over three times a week. The friends that I’ve made through roller derby are the ones that I feel like I’ve been to war with. They’re the people that have known me at my best and my worst. They’re the kind of friends that take you on as family: my happiness is their happiness and my problems are shared by them. They make me feel loved and respected, just for being myself. As though just being me is more than enough.
I’ve seen friends transfer and the fact that they now skate for another team doesn’t change our bond of blood, sweat and hip checks. I can’t always control where I’m going to end up, and what league I’ll skate for - that’s just the sad reality. All I can do is keep skating, make new friends and hope that I keep on bumping into old ones.
Ideally, in a literal - and WFTDA legal - sense.