Pamela Ribon as May Q
Photo: Marc Campos
When times get tough, tough girls get rolling. At least that's what Pamela Ribon says. The author of Going in Circles (which she affectionately refers to as Eat, Cry, Shove) extols the virtues of roller derby, why it worked better than therapy when her marriage ended and what she learned along the way.
I didn't join a roller derby league in order to survive my divorce. Looking back, I don't know how I ever thought one had nothing to do with the other.

You know what roller derby is, right? The full-contact, super-fast, bump-and-bruise-filled passion that is currently the fastest-growing female sport in America? Maybe you've seen Ellen Page fly around the track in Drew Barrymore's Whip-It. These days, chances are you even know a roller girl or two. Or you are one. Perhaps you've witnessed a bout for yourself. If you haven't, do yourself a favor and find out where your closest league is, grab some friends and go. It just might change your life.

All you need to play the sport is a pair of quad-wheel roller skates (imagine the ones you had when you were a kid, but souped-up like Greased Lightning), elbow pads, wrist guards, kneepads, a mouth guard, a helmet...and everything you've got inside.

All your strength, all your courage. Roller derby is hard work. It truly takes blood, sweat and tears. Practices are long and sometimes involve seemingly endless drills consisting of squats, push-ups, jumps, sprints, stops and falls. Imagine a hardcore boot camp, except your drill sergeant is wearing fishnets and hot pants.

Ask any derby girl why she commits probably more than half of her daily schedule to this sport, and she will most likely tell you, "It's what I do instead of therapy."

When you're doing something that difficult, you don't have time to dwell on your problems. You can't afford 13 seconds of, "What am I going to do about my crappy job?" because in that time someone will either out-skate you or knock you to the ground. Imagine suddenly realizing two hours went by where you weren't worried about the things that keep you up at night—you hadn't thought about your life for even a second. You'd completely left behind the fog that normally consumes you. Two hours passed (some nights maybe even three or four or six), and now you're covered in sweat and your body craves only two things: a bath and a bed. If this sounds like heaven, you are really going to love roller derby.

This is a sport in which you play offense and defense at the same time. That means every 60 seconds you're in the middle of a new challenge, a new game, a new puzzle to solve. "Can I skate that hard, that far? Can I hit that angle, that girl? Can I jump this body? Can I play for this long?" You're constantly learning, and every triumph is followed by new amazing challenges. Roller derby is often better than therapy because no matter how competitive it gets, your biggest enemy, your constant obstacle—physically and mentally—is yourself.

That being said, often you'll find you're joining this league against the wishes of the people in your "normal life"—the nice, sensible, loving people who prefer your body in its unbruised form, who gently (or not so gently) remind you that you're the kind of woman who can't pass a coffee table without somehow running into it with your shins. They mean well, these people, but they can't understand. They don't know what you know. You've heard the wham-SMACK of skates in a jam, and you want in. You're not one of them—those well-intentioned, regular people. You are different.

What it means to be a teammate

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