After reading TrACDC’s piece on derby being the catalyst that ended her marriage I felt compelled to tell my story. Roller derby had in fact saved my marriage. Well . . . we weren’t married then, but it did save my relationship.
Oliver and I moved to Santa Cruz only about six months after we started dating over seven years ago. He had lived here before, as well as in Humboldt and was a tried and true cold-water surfer. I quickly adjusted to waking up alone most mornings, the smell of neoprene and the taste of sea salt every time I kissed him.
He loved surfing. I was jealous. Not that he was spending his time away from me, but that he had passion and a hobby that was all his. Surfing in a way completed him as a person. After he would come home from being out in the water he was always so happy and content. Even if it was a crappy day with small waves, he still loved to get out in the ocean and paddle around. It brought him true happiness and balance.
The first time I saw him surf I was completely blown away. His body was fluid and agile. He almost danced up and down his long board with such grace that it made a ballerina look clumsy and uncoordinated.
WTF life? Where was my passion? What was my talent? This surely had to be some mistake.
Oliver had made surfing look easy, so easy in fact I was convinced I was the next Laird Hamilton, all I needed to do was go out there and kick ass . . . just like that. No big deal, it’s just the ocean. WRONG.
Just like every other sport / hobby I tired, I truly sucked at surfing. I did not have a natural desire to be out in the cold-ass water on a huge board dodging angry locals, marine animals and thinking about great white sharks. Every time I went out, the anxiety of drowning would consume me. Which is ironic because I am an excellent swimmer. It just wasn’t for me.
Who was I before derby . . .
This is an important part of the story.
I had given up on women. I had a few close friends, but on the whole I had been backstabbed and left heartbroken too many times to want to trust any female friend again.
I was competitive to almost an insatiable degree. I had no outlet and could not recognize this trait in myself as competitiveness. I came across to most people as arrogant, defensive and bitchy with a hint of always-something-to-prove.
I was also pretty convinced at this point in my life I was not good at anything. I had no passion. No drive. Yeah I was a good student and excelled in my journalism program, but it was not enough. Along with my adventures in surfing I had tried: running, basketball, water polo, softball and in high school I pretty much sucked my way through every performance art group I could sign up for. I was crap at it all.
As a result of all this suck, my unsung competitiveness and my lack of faith in the female sex, I had developed a very low self esteem. Our relationship suffered as a result. I was discontent with myself and would take out my insecurities on him. I’m lucky he stayed with me . . . looking back I know I was not a fun person to be around.
And along came derby . . .
I knew from the first second I saw roller derby I was going to do it. There was not a question in my head. I was a derby skater.
Oliver was encouraging. I think he was concerned that I would get hurt (which I eventually did) but he really encouraged me to try it. So I tried out and made it. I don’t blow smoke up my ass very often and when I do I’m usually joking, but I was a natural. I’m not a crazy good athlete who understood the fundamentals of strategy and blocking from the get go, but I was and always have been a good skater.
I come from a modest upbringing, so although I had shown the aptitude for skating at a young age, my mother had to pass on the idea of paying for figure skating classes when I was kid. K sera sera . . .
I was instantly in love with derby. I loved going to practice, learning new things, getting my ass handed to me and really getting in touch with the tough girl inside me that had been trying to breakout for so long.
Oliver was there every step of the way. He would make dinner for me every night and wait until after practice so we could eat together. He would go to every bout, fundraiser and social event. This was not easy for him. Oliver is sorta a shy guy and he would time after time put himself out there and go to these events even though I could tell it would make him anxious. I loved him more for it.
I thought this was normal. It was not until a couple years into this derby thing that I started seeing the turn over in derby widows. Perfectly normal seeming dudes would turn into these controlling, oppressive douchbags. Women would turn into self-confident super heros and their guys could not hang. Lame.
Oliver celebrated my new found inner light. He loved and continues to love everything about it. He has never once complained about me having to go to practice, or any time spent away from home. He has never complained about the money I spend on derby and always gets me derby stuff for my birthday, Christmas etc. Above all he is always there for me. He lets me cry on his shoulder when I have a bad practice or game and encourages me to get back out there and try harder.
I think the pinnacle for me was when I had knee surgery. I expected him to persuade me to stop playing. The one thing that was a hot button for Oliver was the potential for injury. He did not like seeing me with ice packs all the time, hobbling around our apartment questioning whether or not this ache or pain was worth calling the doctor for. Once I tore my ACL and knew I was going to have to have surgery, I thought this was it, the support ends now.
What actually happened was he became my champion. He pushed me to do the physical therapy and to keep my eyes on the prize. He let me vent to him my constant frustrations and fears, and held on to me emotionally while I went through the darkest time in my adult life.
Recipe for Success
One of the main reasons, I’m convinced I’ve had such a good run at derby and my relationship is because the two are not meant to meet and that is the way I like it. Derby is mine and surfing is his. He comes to games, cheers me on, but does not make it about him. Game day is about me and what I need / don’t need and he gives me that. He never tries to tell me what I should be doing out there, but does give me an honest assessment if I ask him.
I know what I have is a fluke. I look around at the girls who I have been skating with for almost four years and only one other girl still has the same spouse she came into derby with. Now those are some odds.
When Oliver and I got married last September as part of our wedding vows I gave him a skate wheel and he gave me a bar of surf wax – symbols of our unity through our individuality. Today they sit in a wood box on our mantel to remind us everyday to appreciate and support each other.
Roller derby saved me and my relationship.