I can’t do it. I can’t. I gasp another lungful of air through a windpipe that feels like it’s shrunk to a small, scratchy straw. My calves burn with every step, and my lower back isn’t bothering to wait – it’s just burning. It feels like every muscle in my body is quivering, shaking, grasping for just enough tension to stay upright and push me forward one more step. I can’t do it.
“GO ON AOIFE! You’re doing great! You’re HALFWAY THERE!”
Damnit, okay, FINE. You think I’m doing great? Just watch me keep going although I’m probably going to pass out any second now and THEN what’ll you say, eh? You’ll say that I’m a frackin’ badass who skated so hard she lost consciousness, that’s what you’ll say. I’ll be the first damn person to pass out in this session of Fresh Meat and I’ll be a goddamn LEGEND.
And my lungs feel like sandpaper, I can’t believe I can keep going through the pain in my legs. How long have I been doing this? Just over three minutes? You’ve gotta be kidding me. This is the longest three minutes of my life. I keep going. I can feel myself slowing down.
“Go ON! Only a minute left! DO IT!”
One minute? Okay, ONE MINUTE. Givin’ ‘er all she’s got, somehow I manage to speed up again. I thought this hurt a minute ago – I didn’t know what pain WAS a minute ago. Another lap. I wobble on the turn but keep myself upright – just – and push forward again. Thirty seconds. Then ten. Getting past the line one more time, turning in and sliding to a stop panned out on my hands and knees next to my water bottle. I did it. I did it? I DID it!
It’s rare you can point to one moment, pick it out from everything else and say that there is where things changed. Most of the time we grow and change so slowly we barely notice it ourselves. Every so often, though, we get those ‘eureka’ moments.
I’m not sure that I ever thought I’d have a Eureka moment panned out on my hands and knees, gasping for air and pouring cold water in the general direction of my face. I’ve always imagined them in a far more, y’know, respectable way. Looking out at a spectacular vista on top of a mountain at sunset while sipping the Thermos of (Irish) hot chocolate I was uncharacteristically organised enough to pack on my hiking trip, say. A good, scenic kind of epiphany. Or maybe it’s the next day after having a good ol’ meditate or something. I never thought I’d be having life-changing moments right here in a sports centre in Dublin wearing second-hand safety gear stinking of FSM-knows how many people’s sweat, coughing up the water I managed (of course) to pour down the wrong way.
I wouldn’t change a thing.
Wait, that’s not quite true. I’d get my own damn wrist guards and stew in a cocktail of my very own sweat. But aside from that? Not a thing.
I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but this culture we live in has a bit of a dodgy attitude towards women and our bodies. That, by the way, was a lie – of course you’ve noticed. We hear all the damn time about how we’re supposed to be sexy-but-not-slutty, to tread the fine line between Trying Too Hard and Letting Yourself Go. We’re supposed to effortlessly have the ‘right’ kind of body and hair and attitude and even way of walking, for Pete’s sake. I can’t be the only one here who’s been told I have, and I quote, a “quare old gatch”, the very way I put one foot in front of the other somehow Not Quite Right.
It’s exhausting, isn’t it? So we make an effort to decide that we’re just fine the way that we are. We try and listen to our friends and partners telling us that we’re gorgeous as we are, but it’s almost impossible to shut out every magazine and billboard and TV show and advertisement – oh god, the ads – telling you the exact opposite. Because – and here’s the key- women’s bodies exist in our culture as things to look at.
Our bodies are there to be sexy, or to be respectable. They’re there to be pleasing to others, and that means that you’re always at risk of the balance getting tipped away from the people who love you and think you’re the bees knees in favour of those who have oodles of cash to earn from convincing you otherwise. And that’s even with the spectacular queer lady superpower of really, really knowing that all shapes and sizes of women can be jaw-droppingly sexy.
Because it’s always, always about someone else.
Don’t get me wrong. This past month of Sunday training sessions and heading down the gym to work out every couple of days has me feeling better about how I look than I have in years. But on that track the other week suddenly I realised that looking good isn’t the most important thing my body can do. This body isn’t just for looking a certain way. This body is for working its ass off and getting over that goddamn line one more time before the ref blows the whistle.
It’s for being strong and capable, for getting that little bit faster and more in control every week. This body is mine and it’s for kicking ass. Or at least, er, training an awful lot and some day in the future prodding a buttock or two and then training an awful lot more and then kicking some ass. And this body is a thing that can be faced with something that hurts like hell and feels impossible and then do it anyway.
How awesome is that? And y’know the way I said that five minutes was a life-changing moment? It was. I’ve started looking at things I want to do and instead of asking “will I be able to do that?”, I say “do I want to give it a go?”.
Do it for yourself
I’m not saying that you all need to sign up for your local roller derby league and skate your way into epiphanies – although if you want to, you absolutely should and you can find your local league here, because as far as I’m concerned it’s the best thing in the whole world ever. But there’s something in the idea that we’ve all been taught that our bodies – and by extension ourselves, since nobody’s perfect at compartmentalisation – are there to be pleasing to others, instead of doing ass-kicking things for ourselves.
Obviously not all of us can or would want to get ourselves up on eight wheels, team sports aren’t for everyone, and not all bodies can do these things. But there’s something really brilliant about realising that what our bodies and our lives are about is our own happiness and that that’s something worth sticking our necks out for.
And with that, I’m gonna go stick my face into a baking tray full of brownies and icecream. Because epiphanies aren’t worth nothin’ on an empty stomach, and all this running around is making me ravenous. Stay tuned for the next installment!