I never meant to be a derby girl. Six months ago, I had roller skated maybe a handful of times in my life. And while friends might describe me as aggressive, sports were just never my thing. But I’m a writer, so I’m always looking for new experiences to write about, and roller derby seemed perfect. Hot girls, short skirts, violence, competition, roller skates: it was obviously something I had to tell people about.
In October, I went to a “fun skate” at the local rink with the Red Stick Roller Derby, threw on some skates, and pawed my way around the wall. I realized quickly that if I was going to get anyone to talk to me about derby, I was going to have to get fast enough to have a conversation with them. Sheer physical inadequacy turned “writing about roller derby” into a longer term project than i had imagined.
But I still wouldn’t commit. Even after I spent $500 on skating gear and gave up my gym membership for dues, I still told everyone that I was just along for the ride, just interested in the story. What is the story, exactly? Well, it’s about grrls and feminism and sports and camaraderie and friendship between women and a lot of other things that I used to think were boring or impossible.
The roller derby story sucked me in like an endless Real Housewives marathon. The next thing I knew I was going to legit practices and getting knocked down every fourteen seconds. Truthfully, my supposed “creative objectivity” helped me get through the first two months of intense frustration. Learning to skate became a poetic project. Getting hazed was narrative fodder. Getting knocked down was a paragraph in an essay that just got longer and longer.
And then something happened. Something magic. I had been going through a pretty major creative crisis, and it seemed like the universe was spinning faster and faster and not actually taking me anywhere. And then it stopped. And there was derby, and it was all I could think about, all the time. And my writing improved. And, by fits and starts, even my skating improved.
I’m not even really sure when I went from, “I’m just here as an experiment” to “I’m in this shit for life and probably getting a derby tattoo like next week”. I think it had something to do with trying to pass my WFTDA twenty-five laps in five minutes for MSTs. The first time I tried, I did it in seven and a half minutes. And as much as I told myself that it didn’t matter and that it was just a writing project, I really wanted to get better.
The next time I tried the twenty-five, I shaved off almost two minutes. It wasn’t the same thing as passing, but it wasn’t the same thing as failing either. People cheered for me. Girls who had been straight up ignoring me for months were patting me on the back, and I felt a very real, non-objective sense of accomplishment. And also the irresistible tickle of a challenge.
And that was it, I guess. I started to want it, that ineffable thing that is the high of roller derby. And once I wanted it, I couldn’t let it go, even after I failed the twenty-five no less than half a dozen times. But each time I got just a little bit faster, and a little bit closer to a tiny taste of awesome. Giving up was not an option. And all that time I spent on the floor huffing and puffing was so worth it, because last week I skated twenty-five laps in four minutes and fifty eight seconds. And on Saturday, I played in my first intraleague bout and knocked down the jammer for my very first time.
So, is roller derby still a writing project for me? Sure, obviously. But that’s somehow become secondary, because there’s a new, improved, derbified part of my brain that says FUCK ART, LET’S SKATE!
I wrote this post one year ago today. It was supposed to appear in Blood & Thunder this summer, but I totally dropped the ball because I was dealing with complicated life shit that temporarily overshadowed derby. See Overcoming The Dark Side of Roller Derby for details. I won’t start in on my evolution as a skater or as a person just yet, you’re just going to have to keep in touch. I will say, however, that my 25 in 5 time mid-February was 4.29. And I wasn’t even trying that hard.