When I was little, I was a roller queen. I had a battery-powered boom box, a recently paved cul-de-sac, and the disco beat. Geared up in my legwarmers, short shorts, and white skates with pompoms on my laces, I regularly crushed Donna Summers’ Macarthur Park, although I never did figure out who left the cake out in the rain. Alas, my roller skating phase faded along with the discovery of the New Wave in the 80s. Say what you will about Duran Duran- they DID have great hair.
Truth be told, I have somewhat of an unfortunate history with sports. Specifically, sports when my father would come to see me play them. I am the youngest of three, and my parents both worked- my mom started working with my dad as soon as I was old enough to haul myself up onto the kindergarten bus. Oh, how I do understand her desire to get out of the house now that I have three kids of my own! Anyhow, my parents were super busy, and so only showed up infrequently to see me do sports.
It all began with a gymnastics meet- I was 7, and getting ready for my turn at the vault. Looking around, I caught a very unexpected glimpse of my father, and was struck with panic. He was actually there! I had to nail this vault to make him proud. I busy myself with chalk and warming stretches, trying my hardest to look pro. They call my name, and I take my mark. This crazy burst of adrenaline shoots through my veins and I take off- fast. The fastest I can ever remember running, and it feels powerful. Until I forget to jump on the springboard, and run full tilt DIRECTLY into the horse, ribs first. Oh don’t worry, I only lost consciousness for a little bit- I was mostly winded.
The next time my father nearly killed me was several years later at summer camp. I was captain of the diving team, and we were having an end of session exhibition. All the other campers and parents were lined up on the opposite side of the lake to watch us dive, and my big moment was to be an inward flip off the high dive. I had practiced it all summer, and thanks to growing up with a trampoline in our yard, had gotten the timing down right every time. Except on that day, when lined up backwards on the edge of the high dive, toes gripping onto the board, a hush over the crowd- I think: Dad’s here. Adrenaline-rushed, I bounce super high, complete my flip too high in the air, and hit my feet on the board on the way back down, commencing an unscripted flailing plummet, and slapping the water ungraciously flat on my back. Even though I was UNDER WATER, I could still hear the collective aghast murmurs from across the lake. For the record, I did get back on the high dive to perform a completely normal inward flip right afterwards- mostly in an attempt to wipe the pity off everyone’s face. Tragically, that was my last dive. Ever.
Long story short, I survive childhood. Dad witnesses me nearly break my ankle in a high school soccer game, but has mostly learned to stay away from me and competitions, games, meets, and matches. He recently confessed that finding out that I was allergic to horses was one of the happiest days of his life- even though I probably would have met with a terrible, bone-crushing fate if he had come to watch me ride, I bet he was thinking about the bundle he saved...
Fast-forward to last summer, and Jeff is hunting for a birthday present for yours truly. He heads to Ferdinand, our favorite Portland shop, and finds the perfect gift- a t-shirt with an old-school, winged roller skate screen printed on the front. Diane, the shop owner, tells him about Roller Derby Lite, and I signed right up.
Roller Derby Lite is skating without the brawling- at least in the beginners classes. I think I love it so much because it is so comfortable- don’t get me wrong, I still have a long way to go before I recover my disco glory day skills. But that feeling you have when you are just minding your own business, doing nothing more daring than simply standing still- then are suddenly flayed out on the ground, having no idea what just happened… That feeling, I can relate to. It’s an every day thing when you have a kid on the spectrum- it keeps you humble, knowing you can be publicly humiliated at a moment’s notice. You forget to jump, you jump too high, or your eight wheels fail you, and you end up in a heap. But you adjust your toe stops and haul yourself back up, laughing quietly to yourself.
PS- I learned that my father too had a shining moment of glory before he was ten. Riding his bike up Rosemary Street in Chapel Hill, he was cycling past a sorority house when he overheard some college girls on the front lawn saying how cute he was. Turning his head to flash his winning smile, he suddenly found himself on the ground. Stunned, he picked up his bike and hobbled home- he had run into the back of a PARKED car! Genetics are a powerful force.