As I write this, I’m sitting on my couch after practice, wearing my Red Stick Roller Derby jersey for possibly the last time, after a photo shoot we had tonight. My house is quiet and rather sticky and hot despite the air-conditioning (which is never sufficient), and the Southern humidity clings to my sweaty limbs. Soon I’ll leave here for the bustle and chill of New York City, to begin an entirely different life, one which I hope, but can’t guarantee, will include roller derby.
My path here has been long. A year and a half ago, my friend Dee persuaded me to attend one of her roller derby bouts. I’d been to one before – in fact I’d seen Carolina Roller Girls play Arizona Roller Derby, which was no small scrimmage, I can tell you. I still remembered the grace and power and speed of Princess America and others, but it had never previously occurred to me that I could be one of those tough, beautiful, unstoppable women. When Dee Zasta asked me to come to her RSRD bout, it was with an eye towards recruitment – I’d just finished a half marathon, and she assured me, “Skating’s a hell of a lot more fun.”
Skating did look a hell of a lot more fun, and that night I pledged to attend the next practice, which was open to newcomers. Said pledge happened in front of an ex of mine, so even if I’d wanted to flake out I had to follow through to save face. I knew he didn’t think I was competitive enough, and I wasn’t sure I was, either, but I had to give it a shot.
By the end of my second practice, I was hooked. Within months, my team was like a second family to me. Eventually, I formed a pretty, erhm, intimate relationship with a teammate. These are all familiar details of the transition from civilian to roller girl. But what makes my time with RSRD really exceptional is having been part of a period of amazing growth and development for the team. When I joined, RSRD had a core group of around 10-12 girls, and most of those girls had been working their asses off for over a year to get the league off the ground. We had a coach and rented time at a professional rink twice per week. But we were still so fledging that I skated my first bout within five weeks of joining, and we brought a roster of 8 girls to that away game (which we won, btw). At each practice, we hoped enough people would show up so we could scrimmage. A pregnancy or an ankle injury could mean losing a tenth of the team, and hardly anyone in our city knew we existed. I was new and passionate, and I was in recruitment mode all the time. If I saw a nice round booty, I HAD to talk to the girl who owned it, to see if she liked roller skating. I even tried recruiting the dressing room attendants at American Eagle, until I discovered they were 16 years old.
And we all had this mindset – to help grow this amazing thing that we’d found, to share this source of strength and tenderness. We made some progress. And then Whip It happened, and the girls started coming to us. They wanted to be a part of us, and before they were even roster-ready, their families and friends came to ours bouts in droves. Word spread and roller derby became a rather glamorous thing here in Baton Rouge.
While we were gaining all this momentum, my graduate school acceptances started coming in, and I had to face the fact that I would be leaving. It was terrible at first; I even sort of wished I hadn’t gotten in, that I could just re-apply next year and have one more season with my girls. But the fact that RSRD is so strong now has helped me let go. It’s hard to leave when everything is so amazing, but it’s great to leave full of pride for the team that has given so much to me. Not only do we now have a travel team that we can rightfully call “All Stars,” but we have a home team, the Capitol Offenders, full of incredible skaters in their own right. Just recently, we were accepted as a WFTDA apprentice team, with incredible Houston Roller Derby skater Carmen Geddit as our mentor.
And then, last weekend happened. In my very last bout ever with RSRD, we beat our biggest rivals, Big Easy Roller Girls (their Crescent Wenches team, specifically). The score was 144 to 100. We had never before won against them, and prior to our very recent, overmatched bout with Houston, they were the only WFTDA team we had played. They were the skaters that the founders of RSRD has first seen, and they had always been the ones to learn from, the ones to envy. And I just cannot even begin to describe how incredible it was to skate that bout. Every single skater on that roster did her job, everyone communicated effectively, and the strategies that we had been developing in practice actually worked, over and over. I even felt perfectly happy about my performance, during which I got just what I wanted – mostly blocking as #2, with some jamming. And my team started the bout by having me skate a farewell lap while announcing my departure in words written by my amazing wife, Moxie Balboa (awesome photo of us here). The fact that the bout ended with a tearful, beaming, RSRD victory lap made it an absolutely perfect evening. It was a truly historic moment for RSRD, and I’m so grateful to have been a part of it.
Which makes me think, well, even if no one’s asking me to wear this jersey any more, I might just pull it out and walk around the city in it on those chilly nights when I know my girls are playing the 3-4 bouts that are left in this season. It’ll be close to me under my coat, and will keep me warm.