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How Roller Skating Changed my Voice

Updated: May 2, 2021

I started roller skating because I wanted to be more active. I was 49 and very much in need of ‘something different’. At 12, I loved my roller skates. I’d roll through the subdivision with the wind in my hair. It was the early 80s, so protective gear wasn’t a thing, but large fuzzy turquoise dice were. I remember feeling free as I glided down the paths, a sharp contrast to the daily feeling of being trapped by my mother’s bipolar disorder at home.

As soon as my old feet fit into my new skates, something happened. My mind rested and my body remembered the time of feeling free with all my dreams ahead of me, and never, ever worrying that I would fall. When I began skating again, I didn’t think of anything but the space I was in. I wasn’t a mother, a sister, a daughter, a friend, a colleague or a therapist. I was just me. With wheels on my feet, the world ceased to be a place with limitations; time stood still and I didn’t. Every week, I looked forward to my class.

And yet, insecurities soon found me. As I worked to practice new skills, I heard the voice in my head telling me I was old, that my brain didn’t work that way, that I couldn’t learn. I watched others mastering tricks that I couldn’t seem to conceptualize and I judged myself. Harshly.

Through the worst of the pandemic lockdown and the summer, I skated a local path. I started off wearily, but soon grew confident. I spent hours gliding up and down. And yet, the same thing happened when I would feel tired or my legs didn’t want to do the hills, that voice appeared telling me that I was too heavy, too old, not as fit as I want to be. The reproachments got mean, throwing in my face all the years that I sat on my couch at the end of the day after a full day of work and single parenting, instead of exercising. What a contrast – on the outside, I loved skating. Whenever I could get outside, my wheels would be turning. But on the inside, I was a cruel taskmaster – not good enough, not good enough. The awareness of this duality sparked my interest. As a counsellor I am constantly working with individuals about the false narratives that they hold. I promised that I would dig in, to change the internal voice that was affecting my love of skating and degrading my own sense of self.

I found myself using my own counselling strategies with the voice in my head - as if she were sitting on my couch, struggling to let go. My first commitment was to get out of my own way. I let go of listening to instructions (to get it ‘right’), and instead watched the coach’s feet. I let my body take over.

By the end of summer, I felt very strong. My body had changed. Even though my goal originally had been to be more active, I hadn’t realized how much impact the activity would have. I lost weight and developed muscle tone. I felt fit. I felt strong. The voice quieted somewhat as I found my groove. I learned that there was a very large disconnect between my mind and my body. Like so many others, due to trauma in my childhood and youth, I had designated a safe zone in my intellect. Now though, my mind, no matter how protective it had become, was not serving me on my skates. That’s what the knee pads and helmet were for.

With the winter, came a lot of rain and a lot of indoor time. I skated inside when our venue wasn’t shut down due to pandemic restrictions, but the onus was really on me to continue building skills and strength on my own. And wow, did that voice come back in a hurry. Ready to protect, the voice admonished me with no end of ‘shoulds’. As I realized the mechanism that was lodged in, I continued the commitment to get out of my own way. Instead, I practiced asking my body what it wanted. Go outside? Okay. Off I went. Sit and read. Okay. I sat and read. As I began to obey my body’s needs, my mind again settled. To my complete astonishment, one Saturday morning I found myself exercising to a skating video. On my own. In my living room. Voluntarily. And I enjoyed it.

This past Saturday, I laced up my skates and returned to my favourite outdoor path for the first outdoor roll of the season. I mentally prepared myself to ‘take it slow’ and ‘not expect too much’, planning on a shorter route to get warmed up. As I felt the familiar flow in the first few glides, I knew that my body wanted to stay out as long as possible. There’s this one particular part of the path where the uphill grade is very slight to the eye, but so very sensitive to the thighs. I heard the voice inside ready to speak, and I scanned my body ready for the familiar refrain of ‘you’re tired’, ‘you’re out of shape’, ‘you should go home now’.

And instead, I heard my own voice say, ‘Nicola, you were born for this!’

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