Learning to Play For My Dad – by Free Bird

BRRG12I began learning to play roller derby by attending a boot camp put on by our league last year. It was hard and I was not the best at it, but it was very exciting at the same time.

After that, I wanted more! I started showing up to our off- season “skater tots” practice weekly. I was scared and intimidated, but I would show up no matter how I felt. I was never very athletic. I tried out for many teams in junior high but never made the cut. I gave up and figured sports were not for me.

The closest thing to a sport that I do is yoga (if you want to call it a sport). I have been practicing yoga for most of my adult life, more consistently in the past couple of years. Deciding to join roller derby was a bit of stretch (no pun intended) for me. I have always wanted to learn, but never had enough time to devote to a team. So this opportunity of showing up to “tot” practices was my “now-or-never” moment.

Even though Iʼm in my 40ʼs and felt like it might be too late for someone like me to start playing, I decided to show up and give it my best. I would tell myself is that “I can quit at anytime,” but the thing about roller derby is that it just begins to take over. Once you start you want to go back to see what happens next, and thatʼs what I did.

Within the first month of beginning my roller derby journey, my dad became ill and was sent to the hospital. He has had heart disease for the past 20 years but generally had done well for most of that time. This past summer he was beginning to have a lot of issues, which put him in the hospital several times. During my last visit, he was told it was time for hospice and he would be lucky to have 30 days to live. Since my dad always seemed to pull through, we thought this time would be no different. You see, my dad is a fighter and, if anything, he does not quit.

My dad was a active man and IMG_2315bona fide badass in his day. He was a body builder, a Enduro motorcycle rider, and an avid bicycler. He was runner up for Mr. Delaware in 1969, I remember all of his pictures and trophies that he had won from his many victories. In his later years, he took up mountain biking and had a strict body building schedule. He never stopped. Even when he got into a motorcycle accident. Or the time a dog chased him off his bike and he broke his hand. He never stopped.

The very next day after he was told he might have 30 days, he was told he would be lucky if he survived the night. That night I drove 7 hours to be with my folks, praying that I would have a chance to say good bye to him one more time. When I arrived at the hospital he was still hanging in there and would be for the next 5 days. I was able to stay with him, hold his hand, tell him I loved him. This was the most devastating thing I have ever been through.

He was still conscious and coherent for most of this time, but there came the time when I had to tell him to let go. He said “okay” and told us that he loved us. Iʼll never forget that conversation because it was the last one I would ever have with him.

After the funeral, it was time for me to go home and get back to life. I jumped right back into practice the very next day. At that time, I had made my decision to stop playing, but I knew my dad would never stop because something was too scary or too hard for him to do. I also know that he would be proud of me for pushing past my fears and going for it no matter what.

Because of my dad, I still go to practice. Even though Iʼm a slow learner or I have to work harder than others to get to the next level. Because of my dad, I will not take the easy way out. When I think about quitting, I think about him.

Sometimes I feel like learning to play roller derby is the hardest thing that I have ever done. This is not totally true. But now I know I can do anything.