Confessions Of A Roller Derby Convert
I am not an “athlete”. I have an eternal belly, big boobs and some chub all over. The only time you will ever see me running is to catch a bus. The number of times I’ve gone to the gym can be counted on one hand (cuz I’m not a fuckin’ hamster!). In college I joined an intramural soccer team, but only because we had a beer keg after every game. Of course I was the goalie, mainly because goalies don’t have to chase the ball around all day. Hopefully by this point I’ve finally convinced you that I’m really very lazy.
Strangely enough, after moving to a new country and seeing one roller derby bout, I decided to join up! I was 30 years old and probably hadn’t been on skates for a decade. I’m not a fan of sweating. I had failed many times in the past to find an industrial-strength sports bra that wouldn’t be swiftly and savagely defeated in the battle against floppy boobs. I did not own a single piece of “activewear”. I started training in an assortment of used/borrowed/ill-fitting gear, and a pair of cutoff jeans. Don’t tell anyone but I went like 3 months without a mouthguard ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
There were, of course, ulterior motives. I knew that I needed to remain some kind of active, or my Haribo-and-Döner diet would catch up with me. I also liked the idea of a full-contact sport, where I could physical-activity out some anger constructively. But not gonna lie, mostly I was lonely in a foreign land and wanted to meet some hot chicks. I loved watching them smash into each other, so enthusiastically aggressive. And they seemed to come in all sizes. Some were huge, using wide hips and asses strategically to their advantage. Some were tiny and slipped through the pack like a knife through butter. I liked how they showed off their massive bruises, a.k.a. “derby kisses” with pride. It was a female-dominated and non-commercial sport. They seemed to like rock’n’roll and drinking beer, so I could tell we would probably get along.
I never really paid attention to sports, but I do enjoy ridiculous ones like professional wrestling and the more random Winter Olympics events (helloooo ice dancing and biathlon!). Thankfully, derby is ridiculous in the best of ways. First, there is the melee-like gameplay: a combination of, say, horse-racing and rugby, minus horses or a ball, plus wheels. Then, there are the variety of referees in a game, both on- and off-skates, the number of which seems to exceed that of actual players. Everyone gets to pick a campy/edgy/dorky/punny derby name. Maybe it’s because I’m a scientist, but I particularly enjoy that the whole point is really to give physics the finger: put a bunch of people on slick wheels and have them fight one another against their own momentum. There is a ton of crashing and falling. It’s common to score in the hundreds of points for a game (more points = more exciting!! obviously). As a “blocker” my goal is mainly to use my butt to stop the other team’s “jammer” from passing me.
I keep showing up cuz it’s a~smashing~ group of people. We’ve got a variety of ages, nationalities, personal styles, and walks-of-life. We’re working on being more inclusive, but there are already a bunch of queers/butches & nerds & artists & punks/metalheads to make things interesting. Who wants to be BORING?! And of course we have drama, but we also have each others’ backs cuz it’s a community. Is that why people join team sports? I guess you just get caught up in it, being a part of your new derby family. There are parties and karaoke nights, TV and music video appearances, endless derby-related arts & crafts, etc. And I have friends I can cheer on in the battle of good vs. evil! Unlike real life, it’s all in good fun. Both teams high-five and go out together afterwards.
There’s actually a ton of rules and constant strategizing going on, if you know where to look. It’s more like a stochastic dynamical system. I try to embrace it in the midst of such apparent chaos, especially while falling over. You just have to get back up. You’re not concerned about keeping safe – you’re literally there to throw your body in harm’s way and take up space. I’m a mosh pit enthusiast for similar reasons. As a friend nicely put it, this feels a lot like freedom in a society that polices women’s bodies so rigorously. Then there is the going out afterwards to grab a beer with a big sweaty, smelly group of loud females. It’s about learning to enjoy being in my body for what it can do and how I can use it, rather than how it appears.
But again, I don’t get my ass to practice all the time due to the aforementioned laziness. Sometimes I just had a fucking long day and my ass hurts too much. I’m not trying to be too hard on myself though, since I’m doing it for fun. Don’t get me wrong, the top players in our league are crazy skilled committed athletes. Thankfully, there is also room for the more recreational skaters (and non-skaters) among us, like myself. I may not play every game, but I always win the after-party.