My mainstream sports career lasted two t-ball innings in right field and seven on the bench. One time I hit a triple, but I got in trouble; the coach didn't think I could make it to third base in time. I proved him wrong, but it didn't matter. I had absolutely no future in softball, volleyball, or basketball. The most I could hope for was a volunteer position as a statistician for the track team.
The best thing that came from my t-ball dalliance was a cute picture of me slumping beside the water cooler, sporting black strips under my eyes, and a wearing a cap three sizes too big. Oh, and my mom bought me two Babysitter's Club books for that triple.
After ball season ended, my only hope for an active hobby was a pom-pon squad that practiced in an abandoned firehouse. My dad didn't want me to join-- before Toddlers & Tiaras came along, pom-pon squads were the closest things to complete child exploitation. Makeup, shiny bathing suit-like costumes, and heinous head pieces were all the rage.
But my mom and I won. I joined the pom-pon squad, and soon after, our teacher introduced us to batons. I fell in love. I was flexible, so doing crowd-pleasing tosses under cartwheels, somersaults, and walkovers was much easier for me than running to third base (and getting yelled at for it). I liked being able to manipulate a metal stick around my body. It felt circus-like and mystical.
Through the years, I got good. Really good. I practiced hard. Eventually, I won two national solo awards, a national fancy strut award, and two halftime showcase titles. I was a master technician; I could roll the baton all over my body without using hands, I was a fast twirler, and I had spectacular showmanship. An admirable coach from Michigan saw me twirling at a clinic, and she offered to take me on. Along with the great coaches I had from my area, Derek pushed me to my limits and beyond. Without her, I could have never won any of those national awards.
And then it ended. I tried out for feature twirler at Marshall University. I delivered a perfect routine, complete with a toss double walkover, three baton section, and stunning two baton tricks. I had a "no drop," goddamn flawless routine.
But the band director picked a blonde who danced around her batons more than she twirled them. She was prettier than I was. She was thinner than I was. She was probably willing to perform undignified special favors that I wasn't.
I didn't cry. I picked up my batons and joined the majorette squad. Yes, it was fun, but it wasn't me. I wanted to twirl, not march around and do dead-stick baton movements. After a year, I gave up the ghost. My baton career was finished.
I then had an eight-year alternative sports lapse. I joined a gym. I read a lot of books. I lived in Slovakia for three months. I had a social life. I got a cat.
And then derby came along. How and why I joined derby is another post. The transition from baton twirler to derby girl has been an interesting one. In some ways, the transition was natural: both sports take dedication, hard work, and mental and physical stamina. Both have an element of performance, and both have fun makeup. (Fortunately, derby doesn't require 80s blue eyeshadow, bright pink lipstick, and Texas teased hair. Ick.)
With baton twirling, however, if I dropped my baton, slipped, or broke my ass (I did), I was on my own. No one dropped that baton for me. For all the awards I won, I spent just as much time sitting alone in an empty dressing room, beating myself up for the mistakes I made.
Derby is a different story. Falling is encouraged! If I make a mistake, I have a team--a real team!-- to sit in that dressing room and cry with me. Sure, they get frustrated with me, but they love me. Though I loved my baton, it couldn't love me back. Derby gave me people to rely on.
Baton taught me to trust myself. Derby taught me to trust a team. I won't lie. Sometimes I miss the individual accomplishments that baton brought me. But, learning to trust my derby teammates has been so much more rewarding than taking home a trophy that will eventually form a film of permanent dust.
These days, when I make a mistake in derby, I get back up and keep rolling. I am thankful that there are no batons to chase. I am thankful that tutus cover more than sequined bathing suits. Most of all, I am thankful that I am not out there on that floor alone.