I push myself, moving faster and faster, trying to remember to breathe. Left, right, left, right. Glide. They shout at me as I go past. Get low! 142! Get low! And I squat and bend my knees and push harder, telling myself that it’s ok, I can do this, I’m doing fine. When we finish, we huddle, talk about the drill, and the coach asks us how we found it. When it’s my turn, I say that I’m just surprised and proud that I managed to skate for five minutes without falling over. And my voice cracks a bit as the other women clap and cheer, and I’m concentrating very hard on putting the top on my water bottle and adjusting my gum shield.
I missed a week. Low level pain has been plaguing me for months now, and I need to rest. The next week I’m nervous, like Bambi on ice again. It shows on my face, and a wise owl comes over, takes my hands. “I’m just going to propel you backwards so you know how it feels, and you concentrate on the movement”, she says.
The very first week, we sit together in a squash court. Nervous energy abounds. “If you’ve never watched Derby or skated before but you’ve signed up then you’re braver than me” she laughs. “Oh, shit”, I think, as I scrawl my number on my arm and put my helmet on backwards.
I watch my first bout. Two little girls hold posters. They cheer and wave and whoop as their mum races round, they run on track at the end to join the line of high fives, and their dad talks about me how cool it is that they can see their mum do something like this. They want to get involved when they are a bit bigger.
There is talk of kit and exercise in the car. Wheels and trucks and practice and going for beers after a roller disco. “I want to get into running again” she says. “My legs were so beefy. I should probably squat more too.” And we feel good because we are talking about positive change, full of endorphins and adrenaline and pride. And we feel good because in that moment, we don’t give a crap about the circumference of our thighs, just what they are learning to do and how we can do it better, stronger.
It is political, of course it is. It’s women coming together. It’s a DIY ethos. It’s learning from each other, more experienced skaters demonstrating and cheering and talking about what works for them. It’s tattoos and piercings and neither. It’s rainbow flags and pride events. It’s supporting local charities. It’s refusing to travel when politics prevents you from travelling together.
And so I push myself, moving faster and faster, trying to remember to breathe. Left, right, left, right. Glide. I try to cross my feet over, I feel my leg desperately try to push out to increase my speed. They shout at me as I go past. Come on, you can do it, keep going, stay low. And I squat and bend my knees and push harder, telling myself that it’s ok, I can do this, I’m doing fine, and then I have a revelation and I realise that if I fall it doesn’t matter. Because the others will yell and check I’m OK as they fly past, and because if I’m not there is a first aid kit, and because they will show me what I did wrong and help me to fix it. Because it’s about learning and supporting, and staying on our feet. And really, that’s how it should be, isn’t it?