There was a lump in my stomach and I felt like it was the first day of school. I was not really sure what I was walking into. Over the years I have seen a bit of roller derby. I used to watch it on tv as a kid growing up in D.C. back when the T-Birds and the New York Bombers were circling the bank track. Now the game has moved on to the flat track and I was pushing 40. It was my girlfriend, a skater for the Atlanta Rollergirls, that rekindled my interest in derby but only as a spectator. Now here I was, getting ready to walk into my first Atlanta Men's Roller Derby practice. I had spent the day with imaginary scenarios of what my first practice was going to be like running through my head. I am sure that it contributed greatly towards my nervousness, or it could have been that I had no idea how to skate. As I breached the doorway, I see a group of guys and a few rollergirls over in the corner getting their gear on and I head their way. That walk over to the group felt like it was a 20 mile march and that lump in my gut grew ever larger as I approached. "Come on over, have a seat while you get your gear on!" echoed through the practice space. Those friendly words were like Pepto Bismol, the rock in my stomach quickly dissolving and my nerves becoming calm. Before I find a spot to sit I see 10 outstretched hands welcoming me in, and I wonder to myself if they will still be as happy to see me once they see my amazingly bad skating skills. As I lace up my ill fitting skates and get my protective gear on, everyone goes around and introduces themselves to me. A few I know from seeing them at ARG bouts, but the majority I am meeting for the first time. For the next two hours I spend my time with one of the Atlanta Rollergirls that volunteers as one of the trainers for the new guys. I fall, I get up, skate around the track and repeat the cycle. Towards the end of practice I joined the team for a few laps around the main track.
While taking off all of my gear I thought "Why was I so nervous to start this?". I guess that a new person walking into a group that has been training together for a long time can sense the camaraderie, dedication and tightness of the group. Sensing this can make the prospective new member question if he/she will be accepted by the group and that is exactly why I was nervous. Yes, we are a tight team, but I have never felt more welcome in a group as I have with these guys. I still can not skate very well, but I have a great time skating badly with a great bunch of guys.