A few months back, Scott and I applied to be non-skating officials for the 2011 North Central Regional Tournament and we were accepted as, suppposedly, two of the best and brightest, in WFTDA to officiate the tournament. At the time we applied, we were super excited that the event was taking place in Indianapolis (so close to home) and that we'd get to be a part of something so...monumental, if you will (the tournament was called Monumental Mayhem).
Once we'd been accepted, though, it felt like the condensed derby season that we were just coming off of in May was finally catching up with us and, quite frankly, we were just derbied out. When I look back on it, I couldn't even understand why it was so brutal on us. I mean, we're not skaters or even referees. It is, obviously, so much tougher on the skaters and referees to skate and train and play a condensed season than it is for us to officiate off-skates and travel and, basically just write stuff. It could have been the fact that, at one point, we had a bout almost every single weekend (either home or away) and that much travel could be exhausting for anyone...physically and financially. But I hesitate to even blame that...because of the fact that most of the league is just fine and doesn't seem to be burnt out at all.
No, I don't think it was just physical. I think there was an emotional toll this season that I can't fully explain here. I've alluded to the fact that I had a rough time this past year trying to figure out what my true values are and how I want to behave in line with what I actually believe and what I want out of life. I think all of that soul shredding, added to the physicality of being up late so often either traveling, officiating, writing or...well, partying...just wore me down. I'm not as young as I once was...no matter how much I try to lie to myself and pretend that I'm still as healthy and active as I was in high school. Add that to a full-time job where I worked about 10 hours overtime every week at a job that literally sucked my soul from my body and left me in a depression so thick, I couldn't see through it, plus the responsibility of being a full-time mom of three little ones and a faith community that damaged me in ways I can't fully comprehend even now...I was one hot mess. Or, actually, if there's anything worse than a hot mess, that was me. And I don't say that to put myelf down...I mean, just reading through that makes me realize, "How could I not have been a mess?"
I will be straight up honest, with the risk of possibly incurring anger from my league. The truth is, I was beginning to feel that derby was not a great influence on me as a person. I just didn't like who I was when I was immersed in it. Therefore, I felt I was just...done. For the past few months since the season ended, I have wanted no part of it. Sure, I miss some of my friends from the league...but, at the same time, this really really really long break (7 month off-season) has been so great for me.
I feel like my soul has had a chance to breathe a bit. I have had so much TIME and SPACE to figure things out and I feel much more emotionally healthy now. I think the most important lesson I've learned is that I can't fill my insecurity with alcohol or things that just aren't "me". Things that work for my friends won't necessarily work for me and that's OK. Trying to be who I am not will only lead to unhappiness. So, I've come to an important realization - the league (or even roller derby culture in general) did not do anything to me...and they didn't have any "bad influence" on me either. If anything, I was a bad influence on myself because I refused to stand up and be true to myself. I ought to have known better...and I do now. We are a part of one of the most incredible, open and accepting leagues around...these people love me and they will love me for who I am, whether we are "the same" or not. It's about time I take the full responsibility for the fact that I chose to act in ways that weren't consistent with what I knew in my heart was right for me. Oh, BHRG, I love you all so dearly.
When it comes down to it, I definitely don't want to let my league down...so I agreed to go another season...with the understanding with myself that if it is like last season, I'll probably be done. But that doesn't start until February...I have time to prepare myself before things get crazy again. And now I have the power of awareness - to make the right choices for myself. All these things I have realized as a result of what happened this past weekend. Mind you, I was not at this place at all just 4 days ago.
So...this little thing called Monumental Mayhem. Scott and I had already committed to it so long ago. We are not people who go back on our word and we know how difficult it can be to schedule NSOs for tournaments, etc. So we opted to keep our promise and officiate the tournament. It would be a lie to say that we were excited. Because, truly, we were not. If you want complete honesty, we were absolutely dreading this. We bitched and moaned and complained the entire week before and the whole drive down. If you know my husband, you know he is not the most optimistic guy and I was really beginning to worry that it was going to be a miserable weekend. All that to say, we went into it not expecting anything great. But, what we got...oh, what we got out of it! I never could have ever in my wildest dreams predicted that we would have such an amazing weekend!
First of all, the host league really treated us like royalty. The Naptown Roller Girls have been planning this event for the past year and anyone that walked into that venue (official or fan or skater) could see that. They literally thought of everything! The weekend went off without a hitch...so smoothly run, I was astounded. I gotta say, I'm not used to that level of organization and planning in the derby world and WFTDA should be proud to have a league like this - so courteous, professional and attentive to detail. The venue and the care that Naptown put into things alone had already begun to turn my attitude around that very first day.
But then, a funny thing happened. We were told from the very beginning that we were expected to act professionally as WFTDA officials, which meant impartiality - no cheering or jeering for any particular team (not at all easy for me, as my sister would be skating and would, unbeknownst to us then, go on to win the game that would send her team to Nationals...while I sat up on the dais as a stony-faced official).
Team No Fun is what the referees and NSOs are frequently referred to as in the sport. I was scorekeeping all weekend and I had the very best seat in the house to view all the action on the track. I had expected slow or stopper derby (which just irks me) and was surprised that, while still jam-packed with strategy, for the most part, everyone really played. For a good part of the weekend, the pack on that track was flying!
I don't think anyone that was there will disagree with me when I say that roller derby has changed in the past few years. Teams are getting smarter and more clever with how they follow the rules and play the game. So many of us didn't expect the expert level of play that we saw this weekend. Do you know what I saw on that track (especially the Naptown/Windy City bout, which was the absolute best derby I've ever witnessed in my life)? PURE passion for this game. All of the blood, sweat and tears these ladies have put into their training...all of the intense pain they have put their bodies and minds through for the past year in order to prepare for this one game of their lives...it all came through on that track. Skaters were putting everything they had on that track...and that is not an exaggeration. It was unlike anything I have ever seen or could ever explain. These ladies were fearless. REAL ATHLETES. And I felt a spark...just a little spark and a little voice saying, "Remember, Leah. Remember why you love this sport?"
It has nothing to do with outfits or funny names or team/league/WFTDA drama or drinking or being gay or being rebellious or angry or even regional rankings or tournaments. I have let it become so many of those things over time. And it's simply not about those things. It's about this game. The actual game - two jammers fight through a pack and try to do it again and again. Meanwhile, every player is both offense and defense at all times, while in motion. And bodies are hurt in the process, but they press on and master their bodies. They endure and they survive. And they are stronger afterwards than when they started. And they are confident women. They know that if they can do this, they can face anything in life. How could I forget this? How did I let the spirit of roller derby slip away...even while I was in the midst of roller derby? How did I allow myself to forget that I fell head over heels in love with this sport the first time I ever watched it...for these very reasons?
In the end, I had one of the best derby weekends I've ever had. Ironically, being a part of Team No Fun allowed me to find the fun in roller derby again.