The Life Lessons of Roller Skating


Skating has been an invaluable part of my life, and one that taught me a crucial lesson for handling life with cancer.

I can still remember my first pair of roller skates. They were an adjustable Fisher-Price plastic pair that buckled over the tops of my shoes. I would “skate” on the ‘70s harvest gold patterned linoleum floor in our galley kitchen until I got sent outside for the sake of keeping my mom sane. In those good old days of the 1980s, when I was a little girl, we didn’t use helmets and pads. We just skated and when we fell we got right back up.

As a preteen and into my teenage years, every Saturday morning my parents would drop me and my younger sister off at the skating rink for lessons. Not only did we learn to be better skaters and our parents had a break from parenting for a few hours, but we also learned some valuable life lessons in the process. Already knowing how to skate forward and backward the lessons’ emphasis was on figures and dance, complete with the fancy costumes. I even competed a few times and won a couple of trophies. Skating encouraged me to remain focused and keep going. Roller skating gave me a purpose.

Eventually, school and work got in the way of hanging out at the rink. Skating was pushed aside for a while, but I still enjoyed it, I just didn’t have the extra time to skate on a regular basis. In my early 30s, we discovered the local skating rink had an adult night. A group of us would get together to enjoy the music and roll for a few hours. One of these adult skate nights I was approached by two girls who were in the process of starting a roller derby team in the area and looking for recruits, or in the derby world, fresh meat.

cancer, breast cancer, skating

My Roller Derby Team, they taught me more than a few lessons on getting back up.

They saw I could skate and encouraged me to come to check out what they were doing. Me, roller derby? I was hesitant at first. They convinced me to just come to a practice to see what it was all about. Reluctantly, I joined the team never imagining it would help prepare me to get back up after getting knocked down both on and off the track.

Since the team was just getting started it was mostly practices and scrimmages. I had to choose my derby name. I chose to be Rita Lottabooks. It seemed appropriate given reading is one of my favorite escapes. In a roller derby bout, the object of the game is for the jammer to lap members of the opposing team with the help of her pack. The jammer wears a star on her helmet and the lead jammer has the authority to call off the jam. Unlike my previous skating experiences, we wore full pads, helmets, wrist guards and mouthguards. We practiced falling, a lot of falling, and then getting back up. There is this three-second rule in derby, and I’m not talking about dropping food here. During a bout, if a player falls they have three seconds to get back up or everyone on the floor takes a knee and all play is stopped until the fallen player gets up or is escorted off the track.

The parallels of skating derby and living life with cancer are many. When you fall or have a setback you learn to get right back up or you run the risk of getting rolled over while life passes you by. You learn to trust your team and know they have your back. Just as in a bout with cancer you somehow find the strength to get up, continue on, trust your team of doctors, and channel your inner jammer. Nothing about a cancer diagnosis or life, in general, is easy. Sometimes you’ve just got to roll with it.

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