I can’t pinpoint when I first heard about roller derby, but I don’t think it was the movie Whip It. In all honesty, I think I read a story about an NPR reporter who did roller derby when I was finishing college.
It may have been this story?
I guess it doesn’t matter which story I read. But from there, I did some Google research and discovered Pittsburgh’s team, Steel City. That’s when the idea was planted in my psyche, which was about five years ago.
(A quick history lesson: For those who don’t know, roller derby initially became popular in the 1930s, became a popular TV sport among men in the 1970s, and there was a resurgence of women’s teams in the early 2000s in Texas.)
What I do remember vividly is when I first expressed an interest in doing it aloud. I was a 23-year-old intern at a magazine staff party. We were sitting on the back porch of the intern house on a fall, twilight evening, and all of the interns were asked about their goals post-internship. I said my dream was to someday work for NPR and play roller derby.
I mean, if you don’t dream big, why bother, right?
I think there were other things that drew me to the sport: The mystique, the fringe, badass vibe. The fact that skaters are known by alter ego names and identities, and come from various backgrounds, ages, stages of life.
Even the ladies on fresh meat (aka roller derby noobs) with me vary widely in age and profession; one graduated from high school last year, while another is in her 40s and an accomplished speed skater from back in the day.
I think after I quit rowing, which I had done for six years throughout high school and during college, I also craved a sense of camaraderie — a sense of team.
But perhaps I enjoyed the concept more than anything at that point. There were a few pegs against me from the start.
I was a terrible skater as a child, often the kid at birthday parties digging my nails into the carpeted walls on the edges of the track, overwhelmed with fear I would fall. I also got burned by a contact sport activity in high school. I did powderpuff one year, which was supposed to be flag football for girls, but a girl tackled me from the side unexpectedly. It was a highly illegal move. I still have intermittent back pain to this day because of that experience. Thankfully, working out my back regularly and keeping it strong subsides the pain most of the time.
Despite those drawbacks, however, my interest persisted.
A few years had gone by before taking the steps to tryout for a team. I moved around a bit with various jobs. When I was in rural Ohio, the closest derby league was an hour and a half away. When I moved back to the Pittsburgh area and looked up information on tryouts at Steel City, I missed the date by a week. I was crushed. I had to wait another year.
However, a friend had recently joined a nearby league. Barb took me under her wing a bit. She answered some of my questions, we attended a few bouts together, and I loved it. I knew this was something I wanted to do.
Those first boot camp days a few months ago were incredibly difficult. Despite my consistent interest, I still hadn’t bothered putting on skates until those introductory days, and it showed. I was too intimidated to try. One of the other skaters duct taped all the pads onto me, since I drove through a snowstorm to get there and was late. All of the pads were too big.
There are a lot of challenges and hurdles I’ve tackled so far, and some I’m still working on, but I’ll go into that more later.
The 15 plus other women I’m learning to skate with are very supportive of one another, and for me it’s great to have that feeling of closeness within a group for the first time in a very long while.
Best of all though, I’m just glad I’m finally getting halfway to my early 20-something doe-eyed pipe dream: playing roller derby.