My Adventures in roller derby
According to Willy Wonka, if the good Lord had intended us to walk he never would've invented roller skates. And if the good Lord had intended women to be meek, he never would've invented roller derby. The sport some people thought they knew has changed, and it's more athletic and competitive than ever.
Roller derby has been evolving since the 1930s, starting as a simple team based race on a flat or banked oval track, and by the 1950s and 60s, into a televised spectacle, complete with acrobatic feats, colossal hits, and even cat fights. Though its popularity waned for several decades, the early 2000s saw a renewed interest in a more technical, less theatrical version of the sport, and women across the nation began forming grass roots teams and developing new rule sets, tournament systems, and regulatory bodies.
What emerged was a sport focused on speed, skating skill, and strategy. It's full contact, It's dynamic. For many women, it's a place to challenge boundaries, be aggressive, and express individuality while being part of a team.
My time in the world of roller derby seems worlds away now, but I can still recall the terror I felt in my very first bout. I was assigned the role of jammer, so it would be me weaving through the pack of the opposing team, trying to score points each time I lapped the other team's skaters . It would be me trying to out run them, who wanted nothing more than to knock my ass to the side of the rink. It would be four of my teammates out there as well, trying to provide some protection, while they watch for, and try to defend against, the other team's jammer.
When that first whistle blew, we took off, running on our toe-stops for several feet before beginning our strides around the first curve. Early on, I knew I was out gunned, as I'd barely started my crossover when the other jammer flew into my shoulder and knocked me well outside the track boundary. By the time I could jump back up and return to the track, the pack was upon me, and the blows just kept coming. I was dodging, dipping, falling, getting up, knocked over again. Two laps in, the other jammer was racking up points and I was being bounced around like a pinball. Over and over, she was gliding through the pack like butter, and after two minutes the timer mercilessly signaled the end of the jam.
My team was green, and it was showing. Our opponents had so many things we'd not yet caught on to, and their arsenal was stacked deep with small, large, sturdy, thin, tall, short - every kind of skater they could ever need. And they were conditioned. We were there not to win, but to be taught a lesson.
The next time I was up on the jammer line, I was mad. I had trained for months, driven for hours, and pep-talked myself so many times leading up to this, I felt like if I gave my life for this roller derby bout, it might be worth it. When the jam started, I sprinted off as fast as I could, tucking my shoulder and ducking around the first time the other jammer came for me. I made it around the track, and was approaching the back of the pack, looking for a gap I might sneak through unscathed. I had spotted my chance and was halfway through when the pummeling started again. Attempting to avoid another fall, I found myself hurtling sideways, taking a hit and, rather ungracefully, punching the concrete floor. Before I was on my feet again I felt the pinch of broken bone in my hand. Thinking to myself, one doesn't skate with their hand, I continued on, more angry and determined than ever before. At the end of the jam I realized my team only had the minimum players we needed. I couldn't leave the game without forcing a forfeit. So I played another 40 minutes with a broken hand.
You might wonder how or why someone would do that. Honestly, it's nothing compared to the hard work, pain, sacrifice, injury, and commitment that I saw in my teammates. I saw women who joined the team barely able to stand on skates go on to be apex jumping, leg-whipping, crowd-wowing skaters. I saw women organize teams from scratch, build networks, and create local cultural phenomenons. It was one of the best times of my life, leaving me with amazing friends, many hard to believe stories, and a little metal souvenir in my right hand.
Many cities have their own local teams and the 2019 season is just getting underway.