When will I know that I'm an athlete?

posted by anyatukhus, a Women Talk Sports blogger
Monday, December 14, 2009 at 3:05pm EST

About anyatukhus:

As a Freshman in High School, I was too shy to tryout for softball, so I became the assistant manager of our Varsity team. The closest I got to playing sports was to dance with our Drill Team in cheer...more

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By Robin L. Bernstein

Girl with Skateboard

I am thirty-eight miles from home. I enter a large concrete building through the glass double-doors and take a moment to become acquainted with my surroundings. The air is moist and thick with the smell of sweat. The high ceiling does not eliminate the pervasive feeling of enclosure. No windows. No natural lighting. No fresh air.

This sportsplex is full of life—mostly adults, mostly male
and the mixture of multiple languages: Spanish, French, and some English. I pass net-enclosed soccer fields, echoing basketball courts, and a football field. Above me, the steel catwalk allows spectators a bird's-eye view of the various games. As I sidestep young men tossing a football in the hallway, I wonder if any of these people realize what is going on down at the last court on the right.

My heartbeat quickens as I pass the next-to-last court where a pickup game of roller hockey is taking place and
the penalty boxes serve as playpens for smaller children. Beyond the hanging vinyl side walls, I can see through the plexiglass of the back wall of the final court. Here, there are no basketball hoops or hockey nets. Instead, there are two concentric ovals of tape on the floor and twenty or thirty women wearing elbow and knee pads, wrist and mouth guards, helmets and . . . roller skates!

I'm new at this, so I am not on wheels. I am here to help out and learn. As the women race around the track, working on special drills and exercises, I sit in the corner with a few referees and other volunteers
waiting for the scrimmaging to start. Some children from the court next door have pulled back the hanging vinyl separating wall and are poking their curious faces toward us. The little girl is a head taller than the three smaller boys. She says, "We want to know what they are doing? Are they racing?" One of my friends replies, "Well, sort of. It's kind of like football on skates."

Of course, that doesn't make any sense, and we know it. There's no ball, but I'm mostly proud that a young girl in this internal world of male-dominated sports can watch a group of strong women play a full-contact sport, even if we don't know how to explain it to her.

Roller derby isn't always an easy sport to describe. Plus, there is the added difficulty of having to overcome the historical stereotype that this burgeoning sport is still a staged theatrical form of entertainment. I assure you, it is not.

I don't really know where I'm going with this story. I have something to say. Something nagging me. Something is missing. When people started asking me "You're going to do what?" I found a video created by the Hammer City Roller Girls called The Basics of Flat Track Roller Derby to give people the bare essentials (yes, I meant that pun). But there is so much more to it than that.

So, why am I driving thirty-eight miles (one-way) on Friday nights when I can't even bring my skates? Because of women like Beth Hollis, a 53-year-old librarian who goes by the name MegaBeth. She is highlighted in an article by Erin E. White called Skating Through Middle Age
. I'm putting in my time. I want to know what it feels like to skate in front of a cheering crowd. I also want to finally realize what it feels like to be an athlete, yet I don't even know what that means.

How do you define being an athlete?

I want to be able to answer this, not just for myself, but also for that girl asking us what the rollergirls were doing.
I hope the girl keeps asking questions, finds her own answers, and doesn't wait for half her life before she finds the confidence to give it a try.

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There are 3 comments on this post. Join the discussion!

anyatukhus says:

As a nonathlete growing up, how do you define being an athlete? At what point do you confidently say from the inside, "I'm an athlete!"

Tuesday, December 15, 2009 at 11:45am EST

Lisa Creech Bledsoe says:

You become an athlete even before lacing up the skates. When you start eating right, getting in shape, and prepping for your first day on the track!

I was 42 when I first wandered into a boxing gym. For a year I got into shape and watched. And once I stepped into that ring the first time I reveled in the feeling (once I got over my sheer terror!) of being "a boxer."

You will too! Best of luck to you -- have a blast!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009 at 1:44pm EST

anyatukhus says:

What a great story, Lisa! Okay. So, it's a state of mind?

I know how great I feel when I'm taking a corner, leaning on my skates, swinging my arms. I wouldn't say I'm eating "right" yet, but I'm definitely eating better!

I'm not sure I feel like an athlete yet, though. Maybe after I take a big block and pick myself up and keep skating. I somehow connect it with pushing through the pain (whatever causes that pain) and continuing to play.

Of course, I've been throwing myself on the floor (practicing falls) and picking myself up--over and over and over. Exhausting! So, you were an athlete when you were learning to box, too, but only after you stepped into that ring the first time did you call yourself "a boxer!" I think I'm getting the distinction.

Thanks for your thoughts and support!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009 at 4:43pm EST

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