I have never been the sporty type.

I danced for years and got my fair share of bruises and battle scars, but when it came to organized sports, I had always convinced myself that I was 1) way too much of a klutz, 2) not tough enough, and 3) definitely not skilled enough to handle athletic competition with people eight times my size and strength. I doubted my ability to handle athletic anything, and certainly never pictured myself on any team ever, no way, no how.

So when my friend told me about roller derby, I basically laughed in her face. Me? Knocking people down? Actually, you know, using roller skates beyond a cheesy fifth grade skating party capacity? Despite my hesitation, I agreed to attend a practice. What I didn’t bank on was falling in love.

Upon entering the skating rink, I instantly recognized that this was more than I bargained for. Everyone was so experienced and totally cool and — oh crap people actually get knocked down!? — self-doubt quickly began to seep in. But yet, what I also noticed was that everyone was kind. They got me involved. They didn’t laugh when I couldn’t stand. They walked me through exercises not through baby steps and coddling, but through tough love and the understanding that yes, you will fall, but more importantly, you will get back up. I fell, and I bruised, and I got back up (and fell again) — and at the end of the day, I still wanted more. Never mind the bruise on my tailbone blacker than the darkest night sky. Never mind the soreness in my legs or the intense need to shower (but the inability to balance upright long enough to do so). I found something I was terrible at — but what matters more is I found something that drove me to be better.

There’s something gratifying about trying something new, completely from scratch with no prior expectations or experience. It’s exhilarating to meet a bunch of strangers and be allowed access to their world — a world far different from what you’re used to, but also, in ways you didn’t expect, very much the same. It’s the most incredible feeling to strive for baby steps, and to consistently feel yourself improving, but without anyone rushing you or bringing you down. It’s refreshing to work toward personal goals and to, for once in your life, go after something just because you want to. The first time you move from the carpet to the rink; the first time you fall on your knee pads instead of your backside; the first time you move sideways, backwards without holding onto the wall; the first time you don’t fall while completing exercises with the team; the first time they invite you into the center-rink dance party and make you feel included even though you can only really balance in one place — these moments are what organized sports are all about. These moments are what derby is all about. And I finally, for the first time in my life, have the chance to experience that.

As a post-grad with a hatred for the gym yet a simultaneous need to always have something to do, derby has become my safe haven. I know that, no matter what happens at work or at home or in this meeting or that argument, I have four hours a week that are just for me. My practices are just for me, for self-reflection and self-improvement and camaraderie and SUCCESS. I count each completed practice, each time I fall without breaking my ass, each time I get a “good job” or an invitation to try something new, each smile of appreciation and acceptance I receive from a teammate as success, because success doesn’t need to mean what we’ve been ingrained to think it does. Success is individual — it doesn’t have to meet a certain criteria, and what’s more, it doesn’t need to be for anyone other than yourself. It doesn’t need to be leading to a concrete goal or to your new professional endeavor; instead, it can just be anything and everything that inspires you, that keeps you sane, that captivates your interest, that motivates you to always and forever keep trying.

We should never become stagnant. We should never stop trying new things. We should always be challenging ourselves in ways we never expected. And we should always, more than anything, remember the lesson that I was taught on day one: it doesn’t matter if you fall, as long as you get back up. 

Oh, and ice packs. Never forget about the ice packs.