As I stepped through the double doors that led to the sports hall I knew I was either just about to do something incredibly awesome, or awesomely stupid. After two diagnoses, more hospital visits that I can remember, and a full twelve months worth of distance, I I had decided to return to Roller Derby.
Now, I’m not crazy; I am well acquainted with the sport and know full well that I’d be pushing my luck straight off a cliff if I recklessly attempted to become a player, again. No, this time I planned to step into the oval as a trainee referee.
My initial inquiry had been made during my one good month on Prostap when I had allowed my hopes to gallop off into the distance before surveilling the terrain for cliff edges. Despite all of my years of experience I fell foul of assumption and acquiesced to the luxury of ambition. By the time the Tryout rolled around I had already been subject to one rude awakening of highly charged symptoms served with a depressing ’side salad’ of concomitant reactions created by the medicine that was supposed to be interceding.
I crossed and uncrossed my fingers, beseeching my body to at least hold itself together for at least the next two hours. Collapsing on the bus home would be acceptable, but definitely not in the hall. However, my fears began to coalesce as we began the off-skates warm-up.
Proving with agonising clarity that not all exertion is created equally, the light three lap jog left me on the verge of an asthma attack and with the all too familiar metallic taste of blood at the back of my throat. The moment the exercise was over a hammer and anvil got to work inside my skull while all the colours in the room burned with an unusual and overwhelming intensity. I lowered my head in an attempt to hide my various malfunctions and closed my eyes in the hope of restoring some sense of equilibrium.
I felt like a ‘grade A’ idiot – ignoring what I knew to be true and putting my already weakened system through the ringer simply to chase a pipe dream. As we were only fifteen minutes into the two-hour tryout session, I believed I was in for a long repentance.
But, as is always the case, as soon as those eight wheels were under my feet all of my regrets melted away like a frozen confection beneath the glare of a summer sun. This doesn’t in any way mean that once I’m rolling I experience a magical transformation into the elegance-in-motion that is Barbara Luciana; far from it. But that sensation of gliding, of cutting through the air, regardless of how ungainly I know I look, brings me a little closer to feeling able bodied.
An hour and a half later I was reminded that contrary to the limiting self-talk I had allowed to dominate my thoughts, not spending the entire evening slapping the ground with my kneepads or sliding around on my rump proves that my body does have fairly muscle memory, even if my day to day experience often tries to tell me otherwise.
Be that as it may, ninety minutes of fairly enjoyable activity could not erase the firmly embedded (and borne out by actuality) idea that my disability would ultimately put a gargantuan spanner in the works of what I was trying to achieve.
As I was re-entering the sport as an official it was expected that I, more than any of the other newer skaters, be present for the bi-monthly scrimmage sessions: so while other rookies could possibly get by with four training sessions per month, I had put myself in a position where I needed to be at at least six. Once more I contemplated my un-rechargeable status, my screaming joints, and highly unpredictable reproductive system and found myself questioning my motivations for becoming embroiled in such a demanding sport.
After one of these extracurricular training evenings, I arrived home at around ten thirty pm. I crashed onto the sofa, grabbing the TV remote on my was down. On a day of regular routines I would have spent the next couple of hours preparing some nightmare fodder by watching a double bill of Law & Order:Special Victims Unit (I have a bit of thing for Detective Munch, okay?); but that night, after watching the tough women who were to n=become my league mates taking slams and kissing the floor, I felt that I needed some kind of reassurance. That’s when I spotted that Film 4 were showing Captain America: The First Avenger. I changed the channel just as the procedure to inject the serum was getting underway and felt a shift in the weight of my body. I felt my shoulders sigh and a wave of calm flow down from the top of my head and through every muscle that I had inadvertently tensed. “It’s going to be okay”.
Allow me to explain. Back in my ‘comic book obsessive’ days, I was always more enamoured with Mutants than Super Soldiers, but I always knew where The Captain stood in the wider universe. I was also well aware that his British counterpart was the brother of the woman who’s consciousness would eventually be ‘downloaded’ into the body of the assassin Kwannon and would eventually become the X-men team member Psylocke – but, I digress, as this is more about the character on the screen than the one on the page.
When The First Avenger was initially released, the reviews were somewhat lukewarm (indeed, it’s IMDB rating sits at a bewildering 6.9 out of 10 at the time of writing this) but I knew I would watch it as the film is an integral part of the Marvel film universe. A friend had dismissed it as an ‘alright fanboy film’, so I went to the cinema with very few expectations. By the time the (beautiful and incredibly well designed) end credits started to roll one sentence kept playing over and over in my mind: “what a time to be alive.”
Obviously, this is not the first superhero movie I’ve ever watched, or even the first decent comic book adaptation (all hail Bryan Singer…) but I have been around long enough to have balked at some of the worst hatchet jobs in the history of cinema. And, believe me, there have been some hatchets thrown at Steve Rogers in the past.
I thought the nineties version was unwatchable at the time (I’ve only managed to sit through one viewing, and that was one time too many…) but looking at the trailer during the Chris Evans years makes me feel as though my eyeballs have been poisoned.
And I would suggest you only watch the trailer for the 1979 version if you are a fully fledged masochist…
Needless to say both of those films were terrible; not just because of the poor foreshadowing, too-close-to-the-comic costume design and what I like to call ‘CAPITAL LETTERS ACTING’, but because the technology (and I include textile science in this) clearly hadn’t reached a point where characters like Rogers could be portrayed without audiences having to murder their own disbelief rather than merely suspend it.
Yet here I was watching old school special effects blend perfectly with new wave digital techniques to finally tell The Captain’s story properly. Whatever else was going on in the world, however horribly I might die or grief I will experience could be tolerated as long as I remembered that I had lived long enough to witness a movie studio doing right by Rogers.
Obviously, an enjoyable superhero movie will not dramatically alter my DNA, and knowledge of the fictional super soldier serum will not instigate the spontaneous existence of such an instant cure-all. I am still ill, I am still weak, and I am still a medical guinea pig who finds the boundaries of exertion to be ever shifting and unreliable. But amidst all of that I am also grateful that I have this uplifting reminder of how I’ve managed to hang on in the raging tide, even when it was only driftwood keeping me afloat, and experience one of the most innovative ages in cinema. So although I may crash out of the training schedule, or become that fallible flake who can’t commit to anything, I will always have that reminder of how far I’ve actually made it.
And, of course, I couldn’t possibly end this post without showing everyone how it’s supposed to be done 😉