Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Awakening

It was lazy evening about a year and a half ago when my wife and I decided to watch the film “Whip It”, particularly because my wife is a big fan of Drew Barrymore.  Throughout the movie, I could see that my wife was thoroughly entertained, but there was something else lurking behind her visage.  Little did I realize that watching that movie would change our lives forever.

In the days that followed I did a little research and mentioned to her that Atlanta had its own roller derby league. She was surprised and excited, so we made plans to attend their next bout. Being the newbies that we were, we decided to simply drive down to the venue to purchase tickets at the door.  When we arrived, it was a party scene with vendors, a band, and a bevy of open containers.  At the ticket counter, we learned that Atlanta bouts sell out several days in advance, and it wasn’t likely that we’d be seeing them skate that night.  As it turned out, the derby goddesses were smiling down upon us for two people were trying to unload their tickets just as we were denied admission.  Our timing was impeccable.

The event itself was memorable.  The game actually moved slower than I had expected.  Having grown up in the ‘70s, I was exposed to vintage roller derby with banked tracks and brawling babes.  This however was something much different.  It was more serious, and more strategic.  And while at first I was disappointed at the lack of spectacle, I began to appreciate it for what it was… a sport.

After the bout, my bride talked incessantly about derby, and how she’d like to look into joining such a league.  The next several months involved open skate invitations, training sessions, try-outs, rejection, skate purchases, rejuvenation, bearing purchases, more try-outs, wheel purchases, eventually culminating in her attaining fresh meat status for the Atlanta league.  It was a whirlwind of emotions that had flung our lives around for nearly a year before she finally reached this point.  But the success was short-lived.  After a setback due to injury, she failed to pass her assessments, and once again she was sent to the back of the line.

While on this rollercoaster, she had met some women from another league interested in starting a new league in Marietta.  Their attempts to enlist my queen sparked new fire in her for this sport which she yearned to play.  It was then that I began to see a transformation in her. 

She’s always been confident and straight-speaking; two traits which I admire most about her.  So this transformation didn’t necessarily build confidence in her, but rather, it gave her purpose.  She had finally found something which she was deeply passionate about, (besides me of course).

With this new motivation, we essentially switched roller coasters mid-ride.  And this track took many unexpected turns involving a new learning curve; one involving business.  Starting a league from scratch was daunting, yet she embraced it whole-heartedly.  As I watched, I saw that this new effort highlighted her strengths as a natural leader and motivator, recruiting and supporting other women like her who just wanted to play roller derby. 

Amidst the noise surrounding this new venture, her skating and derby skills quietly began to improve.  I can recall the day when she came home from practice to tell me that she finally (and suddenly) figured out how to do the plow stop.  That devil was finally beaten.  There was nothing she couldn’t achieve.

It’s been a year and a half and I recently trekked about 90 minutes to see my wife bout for the first time at a scrimmage with Scenic City.  It was a laid-back event, but was treated as a genuine bout, replete with admission, fans, refs, and concessions.  I didn’t know what to expect but used it as an opportunity to take some action photos.  I watched as the love of my life, Vexing Violet, found her footing and blocked during her first jam.  I could tell that the track was a little slick for her but she persevered. 

The bout began slowly, and her team struggled to score points.  About 10 or so jams into the first half, she was called upon to play the role of jammer.  Again, not knowing what to expect, I watched her blaze her way through the pack, taking lead jammer status and scoring the team’s first substantial points.  To my novice eyes, she was a natural, but more important, I was witnessing a side to her which I had never seen before.  For the first time, I viewed her as an athlete.  I was excited for her, but also for me.

Having endured what it has taken for her to get to this point, I now better understand the allure of roller derby.  It’s not solely about the opportunity to display a bad-ass persona, or about the sisterhood of derby, or even about the punny names they choose for their alter egos.  More significantly, it’s about becoming someone who you’ve always wanted to be, and the journey to make that your reality. 

So be it Lipstick Thespian, Lucy in Disguise, Purple Hazel, or her final settled-upon moniker of Vexing Violet, my wife has become the person that’s always been lurking beneath her surface, waiting to show the world what she can do. 

And so begins our derby life.

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