My Roller Derby Adventure (is just beginning)
As I pick myself up off the gym floor, for what I can only assume is at least the sixth time in the last minute and a half, I sigh, then grit my teeth and aim once again at the jostling huddle of black and white ahead. I do my best to fight the tunnel vision brought on by nerves and concentration and look for a way through. It remains a solid wall, until we hit the corner and it starts to split. I swerve around two of the opposing team – fresh-faced rookies like me – they barely react. I don’t feel sorry, I’m just thankful – “it’s fairer” I think, “we’re on the same level”. I’m relieved for all of a split second before I’m faced with two more black shirts, experienced ones. One of my blockers ploughs into the side of them making room on the outside for me to sneak through. I make it. Just. I focus on my speed, trying to break away before anyone can give chase. I skate the best I can despite exhaustion and do my best to forget how long it’s taken me to get this far. Try not to dwell on my constant falls. Speed is all I need to focus on and I put all my efforts into remembering how to move forwards.I’m not quick enough. She hits hard from the left and sends me to the floor once again. The whistle blows. It’s over.
That’s how just thirty seconds of jamming in first scrim felt, and that single round was the longest two minutes of my life.
Flat Track Roller Derby is, I’ll confess, an odd sport but one that is growing in popularity across the UK everyday. Don’t believe me? Go and look up your local team, odds are you’ll find one within a reasonable distance. Except if you’re a guy, you’re going to have to work a lot harder for a piece of that pie, because Roller Derby is a female-dominated, full-contact sport. And yes, I got thrills writing that sentence.
However, I didn't get into Roller Derby because I wanted to beat on people; I got involved because of the fantastic community spirit and friendship. A few months ago I somehow found myself in a situation familiar to many – all my friends were my partner’s friends. While these friendships developed because we all genuinely got along, I began to realise that I didn't want to be so emotionally reliant on a single person – it felt unhealthy and like tempting fate, because while we love each other, I am still a realist and life is a git. I took it as my cue to get my own life – and a pair of skates. And knee pads, and elbow pads, and wrist guards, and a mouth guard, and a helmet with a bad-ass sticker of a sugar skull on (it turns out that they take the full-contact side of it very seriously).
Joining was the best idea ever, even if I do say so myself. The camaraderie that comes from constantly embarrassing yourself on eight wheels is fantastic, and on top of that it contains some pretty intense exercise - I couldn't walk properly for 3 days after my first session because of DOMS. Despite the pain and difficulty of mastering skates I find myself pushing more than I ever have with any other sport, because for the first time I’m actually enjoying it. A revelation that is shared my many of my Fresh-Meat Sisters, who all walked into that Welsh high school gym for their own reasons.
I can proudly say that on the made-up, seven-level progression chart I rate at a level two – that’s a snake if you didn't know. And that pretty much means I've mastered basic skills and am a very long way away from passing the set minimum skills(which are required so you can bout safely with other teams and players). In four months I've come a long way and am glad I’m not a whaif-like, slip of a thing, because I’m far too easy to knock over as it is. I quite honestly envy the bigger bummed and the thicker thigh-ed.
A side effect of all these powerful, terrifying women embracing their bodies is better self confidence (I wear booty shorts to practice. I've never worn booty shorts before. Ever). If every Derby Girl was the societal ideal the game wouldn't be very interesting to watch. Every body type -petite, tall, short, big, muscled, gangly, and any other- has an advantage and a weakness. The woman bolting around the track, throwing players out of her way like the Hulk on wheels has a weakness (probably) despite her seeming like an unstoppable force. That little nippy blocker you've got three stone on seems like an easy target until you actually make contact and your best shot only makes her wobble. The variety of bodies and skills that makes up a Derby team is where the incredible wins and beautiful defeats come from, not to mention a gaggle of women proud of curves and muscles, or wonderful lack thereof.
This all sums up to the fact that I recommend Roller Derby for anyone and everyone, because who doesn't want to finally master roller skating in their twenties (Thirties? Forties? Fifties…?) Eight year old me would be in awe. And eighteen year old me is guffawing at the shorts. But we’re all having one hell of a good time.