Roller derby takes me back...

On Saturday night, we’ve got the Rat City Rollergirls paying a call to the Kent ShoWare Center. I’m sure it will be action-packed, as these teams of athletes ram and bump each other, whizzing on wheels around an oval.

While I won’t be able to attend (I’ll be at a Seattle Majestics football game right up the street at French Field) I am with them in spirit.

Few people know of my prowess, when it comes to roller skating. Especially roller skating with full-body contact.

I didn’t come by this talent through intensive training or coaching. Let’s just call it a gift. And sometimes God gives gifts with both hands.

From the minute I tied on a pair of skates, as a fifth-grader, I knew I was destined for something special.

It took me 30 seconds to go from a standing position to a prone one, laying flat on my back as my classmates rolled by. I don’t believe I even had to move my legs. It was like magic: sit down, tie on skates. Stand up, crash like downed tree into spread-eagled position.

This was amazing not only to myself, but to my parents. My mother and father were blessed with the internal physics enabling them to not only skate, but to court each other on wheels. My mother would recall the bliss of couples’ skates at their rink in Minneola, N.Y., where the organ boomed out “Moon River,” and the only lights were those flashing from the mirrored ball on the ceiling.

My memories of couples’ skates involved the panic of trying to get off the rink, hand over hand on the railing, before they turned the lights out. I got trapped during one. There is nothing quite like reaching for a railing in the Stygian darkness - and grabbing someone’s behind, instead. That was the closest I ever came to a couples’ skate, unless you count the time that security escorted me off the rink, when they realized I’d been out there for hours, pressed along the wall, unable to get off the darned thing.

Something that has mystified me since those grade-school days is why rink designers always put the “beginner rink” in the center of the regular rink. This means that as a beginner, you have to dodge and weave with the finesse of Wayne Gretzky to cut across ongoing traffic, to reach that part of the rink with all the other hapless skaters. But I suppose that once you CAN do this, without getting flattened by a showboater going 100 mph backward, you’re no longer a “beginner.”

In my case, showboating grandmothers rolling at 2 mph were just as deadly as the young, fast ones. So I spent my adolescent years doing the handrail crawl around the perimeter, praying for the night to end, or at least for my mom to pick me up early.

I finally hung up the rental skates permanently in junior high.

It was on a Saturday afternoon, while I was doing my usual handcrawl, that a little voice in my head yelped out - “I’m mad as h—, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” It also could have been the television set that was blaring famous movie quotes in the corner. Wherever it came from, I resolved that I was through with the rail, and that my time had finally come to skate.

No more excuses. No more fear.

I let go of the rail.

I took one gliding step.

Then another. And another.

I was moving through space unhindered. I could feel an honest-to-God wind in my face, as my wheels rolled me along the waxed wood floor. My ears were filled with the “shirring” sounds of all those spinning wheels around me.

And I stood proud and tall - my first big mistake.

Down I went. Not just down, but down with about three rolls, like a “Dukes of Hazzard” car crash. The world was moving in slow-mo.

I came to rest, flat on my face in the usual spread-eagled position, in the middle of rush hour on the rink.

That’s when one of those 100 mph showboaters found me. Not just found me, but attempted to skate through me. I didn’t feel her skates hit my prone body, but I saw her sailing over me, completely airborne, before she came crashing down onto the rink.

The next thing I knew, all the lights flashed on, the skating stopped, and the management was running onto the rink.

Then the ambulance came.

The paramedics rushed in and strapped the skater, who was still grabbing her leg and howling, to a gurney, wheeling her away to the hospital.

As for myself, I got on my hands and knees and scooted off that rink as quickly as I could. My 13-year-old brain burned with certain knowledge that I would be doing jail time for reckless skating.

These days I still wonder if that girl ever tried to figure out who it was that had been lying there, corpse-like, on the rink that day.

And if, perhaps, she decided to take on the world by taking up roller derby. Kind of like Batman avenging the evils that had been done him. If so, I have ample reason to never strap on a pair of skates again.

But if the Rat City girls ever need a tackling dummy with real prowess, they can give me a call anytime.


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