I have a collection of nerdy hobbies: Trek, D&D, comics, Shadowrun, sci-fi books, Doctor Who… and I could go on. I rotate between a few at a time; sometimes I let a few sit on the back burner while I go full bore into another one. You should have seen me with Magic: The Gathering back in middle school. Oh man, that was my World of Warcraft back in the old days, the bad days, the all-or-nothin’ days. You know, before cable internet and iPhones.
I’m approaching 5 years into my latest obsession: roller derby. (Click the link and watch the dude in the yellow helmet for about 15 seconds. I promise you’ll laugh.) Derby is and has been a positive and defining hobby in my life physically, mentally, and emotionally. It’s about as important to me as comics are. And here’s where I run into a dilemma. When I need to put a hobby on the back burner, I do so without really thinking about it. I am confident that D&D won’t go anywhere anytime soon; it’s been around since the 70s, and likely will remain popular for a long time. The 21st century comic book property adaptation renaissance all but guarantees that DC and Marvel will stay in business for a while even if I’m not buying comics. The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association and all of its members have made roller derby one of the fastest growing sports in the world. It will definitely be around long after I hang up my skates.
But derby is different because I have a time limit on it.
I’ve had 3 knee surgeries in my life (only one resultant from roller derby) and two knee injury scares in the form of a bone bruise and a combination bone bruise/knee sprain. I’m writing this piece with a patella stabilizer on my knee (it’s a lot less painful than it sounds). This injury will sideline me for about a month, maybe closer to six weeks. I’m 31 years old, will turn 32 in a little less than six months. I’m not old, but I’m not getting any younger. My physical prime is likely either waning or behind me. My first knee surgery was at the ripe old age of 18.
I love the league I work with and I love officiating this game. Roller derby is fast-paced, exhilarating, and it forced me to learn to do athletic things with my body that clumsy, little 15-year old me would never have dreamed of. And, if I do say so myself, I do them well. Even if you don’t watch sports, you know this trope from your own life, the lives of your loved ones, and countless books, movies, comics, and games. We all get to a point in our lives where we’re too old for this shit. I might be one big knee injury (or any injury, really) away from being too old for this.
I’m not saying that I have to leave derby forever; there are officials that aren’t on skates and I can always participate as a fan. But like any other hobby in which you’ve invested a lot of time, energy, and money, it’s hard to watch it forcibly taken from you. I can still enjoy all of my other hobbies into old age. I fully intend to watch Next Generation and BTVS reruns in a nursing home one day. In the more immediate future maybe I get hitched, start a family, and head to the game store once in a while for a pickup game of D&D or go to the library and grab Green Lantern trades for bedside reading. I might not be able to do that with roller derby. This is the first time in my life where I’ve had a hobby that will outlast me, because my body will only go for so long.
People always ask me why. Why do I keep putting on my skates every Wednesday for practice? Why do I spend 4 hours on Saturdays training new referees? Why do I travel across the Pacific Northwest 3 or 4 weekends a month to officiate a game I love with friends that I hold dear to my heart? Why do I put so much into a hobby where my clock could expire at any moment?
That’s why. Because I’m running out of time.
My pride wants my exit from roller derby to be on my terms: because I want to try something else, because I want to start a family, or because I’ve achieved everything I want to achieve. But reality says that I have a time limit that could hit zero with one bad spill. One day I will retire my stripes and call it a good run. There will come a day where I put on my skates for my final game. Accidents happen, so I can’t know when that final game will be. I will miss the game terribly after I’m done. Those are all reasons why I am heavily invested in this game. Why I do 70 games a year. Why I don’t really mind that I spend a lot of time on and off the track making the most of my time and training the next generation of officials. That time limit is what keeps me driven, inspired, and involved.
Every game could be the one where I tear a ligament and it’s all over. I could wake up with some illness that sidelines me permanently. I don’t squander opportunities to partake in this hobby, because I’ll break before derby does. I skate as much as I do because I know I can’t do this forever. I want to look back and remember being fully immersed in something I loved doing. Derby doesn’t pay the bills, but it drives my spirit, confidence, and sense of personal satisfaction. I will enjoy the hell out of this ride til I run out of time. If you had a hobby with a time limit, wouldn’t you?
*Cover photo credit to Regularman Photography
**Yes, my feet are pointed in opposite directions. Yes, I am moving sideways very quickly. Yes, it is difficult.
Dante is the resident comic book savant of The Geek Embassy. He’s been reading comics for as long as he can remember, and now that he’s a librarian he gets to advocate for comics in libraries and get paid for it. He’s also a tabletop gaming fan, especially those that involve cards, with favorites including Sentinels of the Multiverse, Magic: The Gathering, Bang!, Smash Up, Star Realms, and 7 Wonders. Dante is a library professional at Portland Community College in Hillsboro, OR.