A few weeks ago I noticed a little flyer stuck into the corner of a poster frame in an elevator at work. It was for a roller derby group in Amsterdam and it was inviting anyone who was interested in participating to get in contact with them. Despite not having skated much in years, and not having been that great even when I did skate, I decided to get in touch and say I'd like to give it a try. Last night I joined the group for one of their twice-weekly practices in Vondelpark.
I was quite nervous: not only did I not have much faith in my skating abilities, but after checking out the group online, I also saw that they were all these totally alternative-looking girls: dyed hair, lots of piercings and tattoos, short skirts and fishnet stockings. I felt really boring in comparison and I hoped I wouldn't feel totally out of place. As I walked up to the group gearing up in the park, I tried to put on my best confident, yet relaxed, demeanor. I indroduced myself to the ringleader of the group, who I'd been emailing about coming to the practice, and she got me set up with a bunch of borrowed gear. Everyone else said hi as well and most introduced themselves. I found the girl from work who had placed the flyer in the elevator; she seemed very pleased that it had brought at least one person out.
I was slow getting all the stuff on; I had to take the skates on and off, which is no quick process, and had to put on knee, elbow, and wrist pads that didn't fit too well and which I wasn't used to getting on. Everyone else was finished and standing up, ready to go, so they were totally waiting on me. I said to go ahead, it's not like I'd be able to keep up anyway, but they said it was fine and they'd wait until I was ready.
Once I was ready, the lead girl (who wasn't on skates) helped me get up and onto the smooth pavement. The girl from work grabbed my hand as I looked for something to hold onto for balance. One of the trainers gave me tips on getting started. I felt horribly clumsy, but they were so patient and helpful, it really put me at ease. So many of the girls told me how they started out only a few months ago and were just as bad off as I was now, so they were very sympathetic. The girl from work hung around, making sure I was off to an ok start, then eventually it was just the lead girl and me, she was walking her bike and I held on to one side of the handlebar to keep steady. We walked that way from the Filmmuseum to the open air theatre, which took awhile, but I managed fairly well.
Most of the rest of the evening, the group practiced in the area in front of the theatre. I stayed off to the side and just went back and forth or in circles, at first staying very close to walls or poles to grab onto. But within an hour or so I felt much more confident and was doing little loops unaided. I was still light years from the exercises the group was doing, like slaloms on one foot, but I was happy on my own little scale of progress. After the practice, we headed back to the Filmmuseum and I made it the whole way without grabbing onto anything or anyone. And during the whole evening I didn't fall once. I was proud of that, though I also know that you kind of need to get used to falling, definitely within the world of roller derby, but also just with learning to skate, it's good to becoming unafraid of falling because it's likely to happen and it's good to know how to fall right to minimize injury.
While I was puttering back and forth during practice, quite a few of the other girls came over and asked how it was going, and offered tips and encouragement. All of them were totally sweet and not intimidating at all. I had a great time hanging out with them. I even got to be in a group photo already: the girl from work managed to draw in 3 girls who were sitting nearby on rollerblades. She worked her recruitment magic and soon had them interested in joining up. They wanted a photo with the group, so we all crowded together. I hope to see the photo online soon. Even if I don't stick with roller derby, I will have the memory of heading home that night happy about the people I'd met and pleased with my little successes.