October 3, 2007
Of flying camels and racing toboggans
The rollerdrome was awesome. It was also something I could not manage to engage with by myself alone. It was always me and my sister, me and her, the two of us, all the time, every time, at the Morley Rollerdrome, Western Australia. We discovered it when we went to a friend's birthday party held there. It had everything we loved . . . sport, speed, junk food, music, and the whiff of skank emanating from the Coffin' Room and the aracde games. I remember there were a lot of tight jeans in the place. And that it smelled strongly of carpet mingled with sweat; real, live, human sweat. For a twelve and a ten year old, that was salacious stuff.
We started to go every weekend. We would stay for all three sessions and hire the public skates. That was six hours of skating, twice a week and we loved it. We didn't really know how to skate but we were improving fast. One day we went down with my parents and I found myself standing bolt upright with my skinny legs kicking wildly out at each side and I cried, "I can skate, I can skate!" My sister teased me. My dad approved me, but he said I needed to make each stroke last longer; take it at a more relaxed pace. By the end of that session, I felt like some kind of a Swan Princess, gliding lengthy, elegant strides with my arms swinging cordially by my sides, feeling the cool of the air conditioning on my face and arms. And it was settled; I had found my sport and my passion.
From there it was on to the world of private lessons and training sessions. I loved it. I hated it. I loved it because I had a coach and I was learning how to jump and spin. I hated it because the rollerskating community remains the most inhospitable, snobbish, cliquey group I have ever encountered. Kind words were very few and far between; we were outsiders and made to feel it every single day. Our mum was Indian as well, and for some reason that mattered more than it should, and I remember one day my mum asking me if I ever got the impression that the other mums didn't like her. She was damned right but I was too embarrassed to answer. And all this in tiny, tiny leotards and absolutely no figure to speak of. I hated my skinny, shapeless legs but I did love some of the sparkly costumes that mum bought or made for competitions. I also loved the procession of ever-more expensive roller skates that would appear; until, finally, the revered pair of figure skates . . . Boans wheels and beautiful, clean white leather. They glided absolutely silently and kept your foot in a perfectly straight line with no give on either side. It's true to say that my folks spent a fortune on our skating adventures. Of course my sister followed suit. And a more rivalrous relationship I have never known . . . for her, if she could beat me, the game was won. She should have been my closest ally. Instead I could never relax in my chosen sport.
I won my first state competition. I skated with Melissa George. I won all my comps except for one where I came third. I never got past state level, so my picture does not hang, emblazoned, on the wall at the Rollerdrome. Thank God. I quit when I realised my heart was not in it. I'd been frozen out. I started to prefer tennis, too. And I realised that I would never be able to skate full-time; that I should have chosen ice skating if I wanted a career. So I quit. My sister quit too. That was that. It was a tough decision but if I was going to represent Australia in tennis I had to focus on that. The tennis career was even more short-lived. Basically, it's hard to break into new sports in this country---we're so competitive and territorial. Or maybe just at that age. But that was my sporting career. I rollerblade now sometimes, for fitness, and every now and then I'll go skating at the rink and see if I can land a few jumps, pull out a few spins. My ability has soreley lessened, but my dreams haven't. I have a whole other life, in my dreams, where I am airborne and wheel bound. I land my triple salcows and lutzes every time, and I never, ever, come out of a spin early. Not even a flying camel.