January was six months ago, so it’s kind of weird to talk about New Year’s resolutions, but this year mine was quite simple really. I just wanted to be happier, so one of the first things I did was that I quit my gym membership.
If you enjoy going to the gym then I am genuinely very happy for you. Some people really do, but for me I just felt it was something I was doing for some kind of end result rather than because I actually liked it in any way.
Also, it was just a waste of money because with two young children I hardly had anytime to actually go. I joined thinking I could do crazy things like getting up super-duper early and going before the school run, but that never really worked out because my husband can’t do any morning school runs. I went a few times in the morning before work or on my way home if I’d done an early shift, but I was just totally exhausting myself. Squeezing a knackering workout into the edges of my day was not making me feel good and I think mainly because I was not having fun, at all, in any way while I was there.
I even tried a session with a personal trainer to try and help motivate me a bit more. It was slightly humiliating at the initial assessment. We went to a little corner of the gym where there were some scales and a battered looking desk in an alcove. On the wall of the alcove were several motivational posters with pictures of muscly looking men on them, jogging next to flaky looking women wearing full make up and a push-up sports bra.
She weighed me and I winced at the number. I was at least two stone heavier than before I started having children.
I think she may have measured me a bit around the belly and the thighs as well and also we had to go through this massive form together about what I eat, how much alcohol I drink and how active I am during the day. She asked me if I already did any other sports.
‘No,’ was the answer.
‘I mean, I used to go running quite a bit,’ I said. ‘I wanted to try rugby a while ago but I was always pregnant or breastfeeding so I thought it might be a bit dangerous for me and I used to do long distance running, but I don’t really have the time now and it’s just difficult fitting it in around the kids and stuff so . . .’
I looked at the picture of the wall of the woman jogging. She didn’t look like she made any excuses about not fitting runs in.
She also looked like a total knob.
‘And what are your aims?’ The personal trainer asked me. ‘What do you really want to get out of coming to the gym?’
‘Mmmm . . . well . . . I just want to feel like . . . sort of . . . I just want to feel a bit better I suppose. I want to feel stronger and just like I am moving around a bit more. I dunno.’
I stared off into the middle distance. I couldn’t quite say what it was that I wanted to achieve.
‘Do you just want to get your body back?’ She asked me.
I looked at her.
She was so young and slim and beautiful and her eyes held the brightness of the kind of human being who gets at least seven to eight hours unbroken sleep a night on a consistent basis.
‘My body back?’
‘Yes, you know?’ She sort of motioned towards the extra weight I was carrying around my middle. ‘Do you just really want to get your body back? Like . . . erm . . . do you just want to look like you did before you had kids?’
‘Erm, I dunno. I don’t think I can really do that and also, I just . . . I just want to be stronger and just feel better, you know? Like, when I am running. It’s just . . . I just feel happier.’
‘So you don’t really want to work on your problem areas?’ She asked as if I was completely insane.
I thought about my ‘problem areas’ and what they had been through over the last few years of pregnancy and miscarriage and childbirth and breastfeeding. I thought about my body and what it has done in the last six years of my life, how it has grown and birthed and fed and held and washed and dressed and chased and tickled and played with two new human beings who have come into the world and have been sustained in this world through my body. My body which has swelled and shrunk and contracted and drooped and got up again and again and again
and again in the night to the sound of crying.
I looked at the personal trainer and realised that the gym just totally, absolutely sucked.
‘Okay, I said. Let’s work on my problem areas.’
A few weeks later I stopped going to the gym. It was boring and knackering and the music was the worst and most annoying music you have ever heard in your life. I just couldn’t fit it in around the kids and eventually it became a real waste of £25 a month.
So for my new year’s resolution I did something that I had been meaning to do for ages. I phoned up and quit. It felt great.
So, what if I told you that now, six months down the line, that I am more into sport than I have been in years? That actually now, some of the best hours of my week are when I am exercising and that those are the days I look forward to the most in the week?
We got my daughter some roller skates for Christmas this year. She didn’t ask for them, she just wanted surprises, but I remembered a few times when we had been to jumble sales and she had seen sets of second hand roller skates she could have bought with her pocket money but they had never been the right size for her.
I also remembered how one night when we had been on our summer holiday, this kid whizzed past us on a skateboard with light-up wheels and it just totally blew her tiny mind.
I kind of knew that she was going to love the skates we had got her, even though she hadn’t asked for them. I shopped around and found some good quality ones, the best that we could afford, with light up wheels which flashed different colours when you rolled on them. I found a kid’s skating class I could start taking her too and watched you tube videos about how to roller skate.
When she opened them on Christmas day she was over the moon. She put them on and immediately fell over and cried.
But we went out to the local parks on dry days and to some local kids skating lessons and slowly but surely she found her balance and picked it up. Soon I was jogging to keep up with her and realised I’d probably have to get my own skates too.
When I say have to, the truth is that helping her learn to skate had really made me want to put skates on my feet again too. I hadn’t been on roller skates since I was about seven but it just looked like so much fun.
I started looking around for some kind of adult skating lessons to go to or something so that I could learn how to roller skate without holding hands with (and possibly taking down) a five-year-old at the same time. In my googling, I found out about a local women’s roller derby team; the Kent Roller Girls. I had no idea what roller derby actually was, but I was vaguely aware that there was a film about it with Ellen Page in and that it was mainly a female dominated sport. From what I could gather looking online, it seemed to be a cross between a race and a rugby scrum but on skates.
Yes, I thought.
This is something I am going to try.
I went along to a recreation league session on my own. I had emailed ahead and found that it was ok to turn up to this as a total beginner. At the recreational league they teach you all the minimum skating skills that you need to be able to play roller derby. Once you have passed these you can try out for a team. I didn’t know anyone there and none of my friends wanted to come with me.
I’ve got to be honest and admit that I felt like a bit of an idiot. Just before I went into the leisure centre I thought,
‘What the fuck am I actually doing? I am an overweight mum in my thirties in a pair of leggings that have holes in and one of my husband’s old t-shirts and I am about to go and learn a sport which looks a lot like knocking people over whilst on roller skates. It is obviously going to be only for 19-year-old sports science students with a background in speed skating or something.’
Also, I remembered this time when one of my husband’s friends found out about parkour and decided he wanted to give it a try and so found out about a local group on the internet, but when he actually turned up to do parkour with them they were literally all twelve-year-old boys who wanted to leapfrog over concrete bollards and stuff.
I was a bit worried I was going to look like a twat.
Luckily for me, I don’t find looking like a twat to be that devastating though. I mean, just in this last week I have ended up accidently going out for the morning in my husbands slippers and turning up for the school run one afternoon with a piece of human poo smeared across my knees (it wasn’t mine btw) so it’s become a sort of default for me.
Anyway, I went in and people were really friendly and said hi and they were not all fifteen years younger than me. Someone got me kitted out with some skates, a helmet and various pads. I had to sign a waiver, put in my gumshield and then I could get started.
Within the first five minutes I was having a lot more fun than I had ever experienced at the gym. The first thing they taught me and the few other newbies who were starting that day was how to fall over. We didn’t even have our skates on yet we just had to run and then kind of knee slide across the floor on our pads. It was awesome.
We did some fitness stuff and got our skates on and then by the end of the first session we had learnt how to (kind of) stay balanced skating forwards and how to stop a little bit. We had also laughed a lot and fallen on our arses loads. I’d had a really good time. I enjoyed myself which is kind of weird considering I had been exercising.
The thing is, how often is exercise just sold to women as something they need to do in order to look a certain way or lose a certain amount of pounds. How often is it just a punishment rather than a pleasure?
Often, what’s sold to women is a way of exercising that has nothing to do with sport and everything to do with making women feel like shit about themselves.
Roller derby to me is the opposite of that. It’s about being a strong and powerful team of women working together and even in the recreational league that I go to, people are always so encouraging to each other and willing each other to do well and to progress.
I felt hooked from my first session of roller derby. As an adult who rarely gets a chance to switch off, messing about on roller skates feels just as much fun as it did when I was seven and me and my friend would skate up and down the pavement outside her house. It has given me a reason to spend some time away from my house and partner and children for a couple of hours each week. It has been awesome to try something totally new and to learn to do something as a total beginner.
I couldn’t quite get out what I wanted to say to that personal trainer all those months ago but I think I am starting to get it now. She asked me if I wanted my body back and I guess that I did, just not quite in the way that she meant.
She wanted to know if I wanted my body back looking like it used to but I just wanted my body back to feeling good again, feeling strong and well and doing stuff.
I don’t really want to work on my problem areas or lose weight. God knows, it’d be great if someone could wave a magic wand and make me look 21 again as opposed to a knackered and overweight mum of two in her thirties, but the thing is, I am a knackered and overweight mum of two in my thirties and if my ‘problem areas’ aren’t that much of a problem for me than they’re not really problem areas anymore are they? They are just ‘areas.’
It was bewildering to the personal trainer to encounter a woman who was not at the gym with the main intention of altering her appearance, of slimming down and smoothing over the ‘problem’ parts of her body.
At roller derby I don’t feel like my body is a problem, not at all. In fact, I’ve been amazed at what my body can actually do when I give it the chance and at what it can learn even though I am not in my teens or my twenties anymore.
Sport doesn’t have to be about changing your body or looking a certain way, but unfortunately this is the way that it is so often packaged up and sold to women. Perhaps that’s the way a lot of people enjoy exercising, I dunno. All I know is that it got to the point for me where looking different was not important. I wanted to enjoy myself. I wanted to have fun. I wanted more happiness in my life, not more self-punishment or guilt.
And physically, I wanted to be stronger, faster, and more able to chase my two-year-old around the park. After years of hardly any sleep and sitting down for hours feeding babies I wanted to feel less like a sack of aches and pains at the start of each day and less out of breath when I go up the stairs fifty million times a morning looking for stuff my daughter needs to put in her book bag for school.
I’m sure there is a place for the kind of approach of the personal trainer that I had a session with, you know, starting off with what you want to change about your appearance and then exercising accordingly, but can you imagine how much more fun it would be to play an actual sport instead? What about a dance class? What about hockey or football or netball or rugby? What about roller skating or rock climbing or basketball or anything really that is actually about enjoying what you are doing and champions what you are able to do as opposed to just trying to be slimmer?
Anyway, if you can relate to what I’m saying then I’d encourage you to try something new like I did. You always feel like a knob turning up to something for the first time but it can be so good to have a crack at something new. Trying roller derby has been just what I needed and I have met an amazing group of women too. Women of all ages, shapes and stages of life.
I thought I’d be the only Mum there when I first turned up. I thought I’d definitely be the only person over 30 and overweight. I thought that since I couldn’t even roller skate at all I would be laughed at and people would wonder why I was even there. Walking through the door for the first time was hard, but now I wouldn’t miss a week’s training.
And I was wrong about who else would be there. I wasn’t unwelcome or out of place. It’s such an inclusive sport. From what I have seen so far, there’s a space for every type of body shape on a roller derby team.
Anyway, I could go on about roller derby for ages and I’m not even going to attempt to explain the rules of the game or the fact that there isn’t even a ball. You should watch this video instead about women in sport. It’s got roller derby in it and an awesome poem by Maya Angelou.