Should you join roller derby?
Okay, I admit that the answer to this question is a bit more complicated so I’m going to tell you a little bit about myself, and why I chose to join the Cornfed Derby Dames. Hopefully by the end of my story, you’ll be able to decide if derby could be right for you.
A few years ago I was introduced to the rapidly growing sport of women’s flat track roller derby. Though I’ve never really played or been a huge fan of sports, there was something about girls on roller skates hitting each other that was just intriguing. I attended a few bouts, and fell in love. These were tough, athletic women of all shapes, sizes and colors.
When I found out that Muncie had a local team, I had a small spark of an idea that maybe someday I would join it. This tiny idea stayed at the back of my mind for a while. Whenever this little idea would start to grow, I’d stomp it down by telling myself that I was too old, too unathletic, too wimpy, too clumsy and too short to think about trying derby. I mean, I had never really been a good skater, and it had been 15 years since I had set foot inside a rink so how could I even consider such a preposterous notion? Fortunately for me, that little idea would not go away.
I found a pair of(mostly) fitting skates at a garage sale for $7 so I went to the park and strapped them on. It took me a little while to stand. Then it took me a little while to make my feet stop banging into each other. Eventually I was able to roll, and I started slowly learning how to skate. Every stride that I took fueled that little spark of an idea that maybe someday I could play roller derby. Every day I went to the park, and skated on the trail in my skates that were two sizes too big with wheels that were horrible for outdoor skating. Eventually, I could mostly go in a straight line! I couldn’t stop, or do a crossover, or turn around easily, but I was starting to feel like maybe someday I could possibly do those things too.
I continued to have this internal battle of whether I should or shouldn’t try derby right up to the weekend before CFDD’s season began. I finally decided to give it a try. I made a trip down to Vital Skates for some good pads and wheels, and I emailed the team asking if I could join on the second practice because I had already missed the first practice as well as the freshmeat clinic. I was told that I was welcome. I continued to doubt myself, but at this point there was no backing down. Since my first practice was actually the second practice, I had missed the introductions and informational meeting. When I made it onto the floor, I saw that my freshmeat class was large, and they were almost all better skaters than me. When we started to practice t-stops, the very first and most basic stop that you learn, and I was completely lost. Fortunately for me, a very kind and enthusiastic veteran with fancy eyeliner took me aside, and showed me the foot movements. I felt dumb. I felt clumsy. I was embarrassed that I was the only one who had to go practice while holding on to the wall, but the girl who I would later come to know as Sonic the Trackhog just kept encouraging me. When my feet kind of did what they were supposed to, she would exclaim, “Good job! You’re getting it!” I had my doubts.
After that first practice, I was exhausted. The next few days, my legs were so sore that I could barely walk, but I went back. I had spent too much money on those fancy kneepads to give up after the first week even though every single muscle in my body was screaming at me to just stay home. I started to make friends with some of the other freshmeat girls, and we bonded over our shared suffering. My husband encouraged me to keep going back, and not give up even though he missed having me at home on those practice nights. After a few weeks of attending every practice, the soreness started to diminish. Those t-stops started to come easier, and I started to feel a little bit more confident on my skates. I watched online videos that broke down things like transitions and turnaround stops, and I tried to imitate them in my garage. I continued to go to every practice, and as the weather got warmer, I hit the trail again(with better wheels). There were still practice nights that would make me want to give up, but after encouraging facebook messages from my teammates and my husband telling me that he was proud of me for not giving up, I was ready to go back and keep trying.
Eventually I passed my minimum skills test, and graduated from freshmeat which meant picking a name and ordering a jersey. I kept coming to every practice, and I kept improving. I didn’t improve as quickly as most of the other girls, or as fast as I wanted, but I was slowly getting better. My freshmeat class dwindled as girls stopped going to practice. I kept going to practice. I became friends with more of the veterans, and realized that they had all of the same insecurities and fears that I had. They were just like me, but with more experience.
Despite all of my hard work, I didn’t get to play in a single home bout my first season. Instead of letting this defeat me, I tried harder. Every time that someone asked when they’d get to come see me play, I told them that I wasn’t good enough yet, and I let it fuel my drive. I worked hard, and attended every practice that I could.
At the end of the season, the team awarded me the “most improved blocker” award. I know that I was probably the most improved because I set the bar so low in the beginning, and that just not tripping myself constantly was a massive improvement, but I didn’t care. I still proudly display that award in my living room. I had worked hard, and my teammates acknowledged it.
When our second season started, I really felt like all of that hard work started to pay off. I was rostered for every bout, and played in all of them. My body was getting stronger, and I had a place where I felt like I belonged. Let’s face it, it’s hard to make friends as an adult. After I moved away from my childhood town, I kept online contact with some of my good friends, but there’s nothing like the physical presence of a girlfriend whose shoulder you can literally cry on. Derby gave me that. Now I know that if my car breaks down, I have a support system of twenty derby sisters that would come retrieve me from the side of the road, take me home and feed me snacks.
Well, this is the origin story of J.J. BabeRams. It’s not special or unique. There are thousands of derby women, men, girls and boys all across the world that have shared a very similar experience, but the moral of this story is that if you want to play derby, you can. If you can see yourself as the heroine of a story similar to mine, the contact address is firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ve given you everything that you need. The rest is up to you.