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  • Emily Echols

Trusting My Feet


“You have a testing problem,” she told me gently, skating next to me, trying to calm me down. "Bash, we see you do these things. We know you can." She could tell I was close to tears. We have monthly skills tests at roller derby practice. You have to be level four to give and receive hits at practice and level six to skate in a bout.


Saturday, we started by going through the level one skills. I forget how to walk if people are watching me. Since I had an audience, I couldn't demonstrate the most basic skills. I started to freak out, thinking they were re-testing me on level one and two and that they would take away the stripes I’d already earned. Every time I attempted a left knee tap, both knees went down. My right knee didn’t trust my left knee to get the job done alone. Even after all this time on skates, I still don’t trust my feet. I messed up every single time I circled around the testers and every time I cursed with growing volume. My face burned and tears perched on the edge of my eyes. 


It snowballed and I couldn’t perform any of the skills I do all the time. I couldn’t do a single one with people watching me. It’s been kind of a rough week. I’ve been trapped in the house with a pants-less three-year-old trying to get him potty-trained but mostly just cleaning up bathroom messes. We haven’t gone anywhere or done anything and, even more than usual, I needed derby. I needed to do well, and I needed to have fun and I wasn’t doing either.


Every testing day someone eventually takes me to a corner, pretends to not watch what I’m doing and I can miraculously do the skill. At one point during this test I was trying to do a two-foot hop. I would jump successfully all over the other side of the track but when I got to the obstacle, I didn’t trust my feet anymore and I would do a one-foot hop. As an experiment I skated up next to the obstacle and did the jump next to it. I yelled, “Did I get high enough?” The tester yelled back, “Yes! And I’m counting it.” 


In the end, they gave me level three and level four stripes. But I didn’t feel like I’d earned it, not really. It felt like they were changing the rules for me, counting things that didn’t really count. They were letting me squeeze by instead of successfully demonstrating the skill. I needed to weave around the cones in six seconds. I consistently did it in six and a half seconds. Over and over. Six and a half seconds. The tester said she wasn’t going to keep the stripe from me for half a second. But shouldn’t she have? Isn’t that the point of a test? I didn’t actually pass it. I didn’t actually jump over the obstacle. I couldn’t even do a one-knee tap. I thought I hadn’t passed level three.


I am not a good judge of my own abilities. 


I tend to underestimate my skill and overestimate possible productivity. Overestimating productivity is another way of underestimating. I’m underestimating the amount of time needed to accomplish a particular task. I am consistently devaluing both my skill and my time. 


I, apparently, have no idea what I can or cannot do. I’d been obsessively practicing transitions, 180s and 360s, thinking that I didn’t quite have either of them, in either direction. I strive for perfection and anything less feels like a failure. Since it wasn’t beautiful, I thought I hadn’t done it. 


Oh, if that were the rubric for life, we would all be in a lot of trouble. But it doesn’t always have to be pretty. It just needs to be accomplished. I do this on so many levels. I comment on the slightly under-done green beans. I point out the imperfections in the scarf I’m knitting. I beat myself up for not doing everything in one day. I find fault in everything I do. If it’s not perfect, it’s a failure. 


But no, I’m a level four skater even though my transitions are ugly, even though testers have to pretend to not look at me, even though I panic during tests. I’m a level four skater because I can do the things required to be a level four skater.


I harshly judge myself against others. The other remaining people who started fresh meat when I did are both level six and have been for a while. I felt behind. They’d improved so quickly and here I was scraping by at level two. I was failing at roller derby just like I fail at so many things. 


“You just need to believe in yourself,” a skater said after our last testing day. 

“In life,” I said. 

“What?” she asked, taking off her skates. 

“I need to believe in myself in life. But yes, in derby, too.” 


If I’m not a good judge of my own abilities that probably means I can do a whole heck of a lot that I don’t think I can, huh? I just need to trust my feet. 

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