Photo: Thomas Hargis
Many derby girls find they are playing a sport for the first time in their lives. They never got all that excited about going to the gym, had parents who made them choose academics over athletics back in school or simply "hated exercise." These are the same girls who are now willingly spending hours upon hours a day, sometimes six days a week, training their bodies. Not because they want to fit into some killer bikini, but because they want to win.
Now, if that's not girl power, I don't know what is.
In roller derby, we skate rather anonymously. When you first start, you go by your given name. Your first name—we don't need to know the rest because it's going to change. After three months of training, you create your own derby name. This means your real identity is gone. It doesn't matter. In fact, it's better if nobody knows. I don't want to slam into a woman I think of as a mother of four small children, and I don't want you to go easy on me because you think, "I feel like a jerk whenever I make that geeky comedy writer go flying to the ground." When I'm on my skates, I'm not Pam. I'm May Q. Holla! My teammates include such fearless women known only as: Risky A Go-Go, Sulfuric Astrid, Asa Hearts, Helen Surly Frown and Queen Elizadeath II.
This way, we aren't skating as mothers, sisters, daughters, teachers. We are teammates. We're all taking the same risks to play with each other. We willingly do this knowing there's pain involved, that sometimes you're going to get hurt. We don't need excuses, nor do we need to know what's going on in your normal life. Who cares if you're going through a divorce, that you're waiting on test results or that you're thinking about dropping out of that masters program? We just need you to get your head in the game. Right now.
You quickly learn who your teammates really are. Not what they've done or how they make a living or where they live—what they're made of. You find out which ones are fighters, brawlers, divas. You see who will be there for you when you need a partner, when you need a hand. You know who recognizes you for your skills and counts on you to be there when she wants your help.
Because on the track we aren't mothers, sisters, daughters, teachers. We are jammers, blockers, pivots, captains.
Of course, over time, you start to learn the people hidden underneath those tough, tough derby exteriors. In my case, after almost two years of skating with the LA Derby Dolls, my "normal life" ended up with a divorce and a published novel about a woman going through a similar struggle. Once the book came out, the most amazing thing happened. Women I'd been skating with for months came up to me and told me their stories.
"Nobody knows this: I also joined roller derby right after a divorce."
"I joined roller derby when I beat cancer."
"Before roller derby, I didn't have any friends. Now I have 50."
It's pretty powerful stuff.
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