I was approaching my fortieth birthday when it occurred to me that I should do something badass. I wasn’t going to go buy a sports car or anything crazy like that-but after going to watch the local roller derby team practice for an evening, that seemed to hold just the proper amount of tough girl I was looking for. Camaraderie, cute socks, and little shorts combined with roller skates seemed like the perfect mix for me. Why not? Life is too short to not give it a whirl.
After talking it over with Robert, who was in full support, I decided to contact the team and see what I needed to do to get involved. Just because I hadn’t been on skates in, oh, 30 years, was no reason to be nervous, right? I got in touch with the captain and she encouraged me to come to the next practice and they would have loaner gear waiting for me so that I’d be able to try it out. I was excited, to say the least!
I got myself psyched up and actually managed to make it to the next practice. There’s quite a lot of safety equipment involved in roller derby-helmet, wrist guards, elbow pads, knee pads, skates…now that I’m actually considering the equipment, it’s not really all that much. After being shown what goes where and how to put it on correctly, I was all set! Ready, set, roll!
Alright, it wasn’t that easy.
I think I spent almost an hour holding onto the fence surrounding the rink (which was also used by roller hockey guys) just going around in an endless circle. The fear of falling is something to behold. Having your body supported by wheels that may or may not go in the direction you intend is just not normal-I felt like a baby giraffe, to say the least.
After getting warmed up Ha! I joined a small group of other derby noobs and we went over the basics of skating. How to stop, how to start, how to fall.
How to fall.
Yes, one does a lot of falling in roller derby.
2 hours and countless sore muscles later, practice was over. I was able to hobble over to my truck and drive directly to Walgreens to purchase some Epsom salt in hopes of soaking in a hot tub with a giant glass of wine to relieve some pain. It did help a little but I think the wine and Advil did the bulk of the work.
I was so excited at the prospect of becoming a derby girl who, after many encouraging words from Robert, ran out and bought all my gear the next day. I wasn’t too keen on having a white helmet, I’ll tell you, but I’m too impatient to wait for something to be ordered and I had practice the next day so I wanted to be prepared. I have a rather small head so finding the proper size is more challenging than I would have thought. My brain is plenty big, it’s just compact.
Next practice, I was all geared up-skates laced, all my pads on, mouth guard, helmet. I stood up off of the bench upon which I was seated and promptly fell on my ass. Not a graceful fall, not just lightly, No, this baby giraffe fell with a giant thud, all spindly and no sign of femininity at all.
That stung. I narrowly missed hitting the back of my neck on the metal bench as I went down and all of my weight landed on my left butt cheek. I got myself up, looked around to see if anyone was laughing (no one was) and made myself go out onto the rink. That wasn’t exactly the best start but, as I said, there is a lot of falling in roller derby, I was just ahead of the game.
I chit chatted with some of the girls and they were very encouraging. Just keep practicing and you’ll get better. If you’re not falling, you’re not trying hard enough.
I made it through the practice with a very sore rump which I iced once I made it home. Almost the entirety of my cheek was turning all shades of purple and it hurt to sit on it…Oh, the price we’ll pay to attain badassery.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I developed a love for knee-high socks. Aside from the obvious cute factor, they served a purpose; the taller the sock, the more protection you would have on your bare legs since, unlike hockey, roller derby uses the least amount of clothing and padding as possible.
I looked in stores and those types weren’t the easiest to find. There were a few in Hot Topic and Spencer’s, but I wanted variety. After asking around at practice, I was told about Sock Dreams-an online superstore specializing in wondrous socks galore! O, delight! I spent at least an hour perusing their website when I finally settled on about 4 pairs of socks suitable for a potential derby queen.
As you can see from the above picture, there is a lot of skin to scrape if you don’t wear tall socks.
A few words about duct tape:
It becomes a necessity it roller derby. You need to keep the front part of your skates taped because through the course of a practice, you will find the leather (or synthetic, whichever the case may be) becoming worn from rough use. When you fall to your knee or knees, you use the top of your skate to stop which rubs along the skating platform which, in our case, was a treated concrete. If you don’t protect it with a few layers of duct tape, you will quickly ruin the boot of your skates. Duct tape, like socks, also becomes part of the fashion. There are many cute designs and patterns to choose from and a derby girl usually has a few different rolls to choose from.
Along with practices thrice weekly, there were also various meetings to attend as well as social gatherings and fundraising projects. It quickly became all-consuming and I found I had time for little else. I was just a wee bit obsessed.
Through the course of the practice filled summer, I gained about 15 pounds of muscle. I didn’t realize it at first until I noticed that my jeans wouldn’t fit up over the bubble butt I had developed. Ohhhh, I didn’t like that! I liked developing muscle but I definitely did not like seeing the scale go up. It takes a lot of muscle to keep weary legs going for 2 hours of grueling practice in 100 degree heat but it wreaked havoc on my brain. Muscle is good. Gaining weight is bad. Being strong is good. Jeans not fitting is bad. I didn’t deal with it as well as I should have and constantly complained about it to Robert who was always reassuring and encouraging me to continue. No, I wasn’t a tub of lard. Keep skating.
He puts up with a lot, thankfully!
The summer went progressed; I built a small wardrobe of long socks, glittery booty shorts, and rolls and rolls of duct tape…I also developed some friendships and an appreciation for group sports. These were some dedicated and hard-working derby girls that put in many hours each week honing their skills. It’s hard to keep pushing through after falling countless times but they would just get up and get back at it.
It was finally time in the season where there was a bout to attend. A “bout” is a roller derby game where two teams compete against each other in an allotted amount of time and the team with the highest score wins. I was nowhere near close to being able to skate in a bout-definitely didn’t have the skills down, didn’t know the rules, so many rules!! But, I got to do the next best thing which was to show up and support the girls that were going to be competing. I helped out at the door by having the spectators sign release waivers. Yes, roller derby is a contact sport and it is not unheard of to have girls go flying into the sidelines and wipe out a row of people. Nobody wants to get sued, so waivers are a must. I had to explain this to several people when they asked why they would need to sign anything. Ever watch the movie Whip it? Then you know what I’m talking about-it’s pretty rough.
I continued with roller derby until about November when, at practice, I took a fall. Now, I had become fairly accustomed to falling quite a bit, and while not fun, I knew it was inevitable. But this time, as I landed on my derriere then somehow flipped forward and slid across the cement boob first, I realized that maybe this just wasn’t for me. I had also managed to hit my head, which had begun throbbing fairly quickly so I sat myself on the bench for the rest of the practice. Even though we wear helmets, a good thump still bounces the ‘ol noggin a bit.
I decided I’d take a break and as the holidays were rapidly approaching, I could use the down time. It was also a break my almost 40-year-old body needed-I needed to spend some time visiting my chiropractor so that he might relieve some of the pain I had developed in my hip since that last fall.
All in all, I would do roller derby again; it was an experience of a lifetime! I also learned some new things:
1. You don’t have to prove anything to anybody but yourself
2. I’m not a complete wimp; I should have already known this as I’ve birthed five big babies without an epidural
3. My husband is my biggest fan
4. Turning 40 is pretty badass in itself
Thank you, Prison City Derby Dames!