Now gather around for a little story...
My name is Kris. I’m a mom and a teacher,
and I play roller derby.
I certainly never planned to get caught up in something like this, but hey. All the best stories start that way, right?
In early 2011, I was doing okay. Teaching, had been divorced for a few years, trying to start a whole new life back in my hometown to have my family nearby for the kids. Kids! Being their mom was (and is) the most fun and fulfilling thing in the universe - but when you’re THE parent on a day-to-day basis, that’s pretty exhausting, especially when you spend your work days wrangling other people’s kids and you don’t have the luxury of avoiding other humans when you’re feeling cranky. (Teachers do get cranky, you know. We just aren’t allowed to show it, which is why we can drink margaritas like a boss and play sports where you get to whack the snot out of people and swear like a sailor.)
So I was professionally-fine, and parenting-fine, occasionally had girls’ nights out…but I desperately missed having a fun thing, an activity, an outlet for myself. Cue quiet anticipatory music.
One day I saw in the paper that there was going to be a roller derby game in the “big city,” so I dragged my best friend to go see it with me, just to get out of the house. I’d grown up skating; looked like fun. You can probably figure how predictable the rest is: fell in love instantly, saw the flyer for boot camp coming up the next month, plied my charms (again) to get Bestie to come with me, tried out for team, made team. Cue glorious cheesy triumphant fanfare!
It’s coming up on two years since I joined the league, and it’s been a life changer in so many ways. Like every skater, I’ve had to work my way through being brand new (aka “fresh meat”), shove my way through the self-doubt and plateaus that we all get, and fight for roster spots. It’s kicked my “I’m so tired” mom butt back into better shape, it’s given me an instant community of amazing women (and a few guys) who are more like family than I’d ever have imagined possible, it’s proved to me that I am one confident, tough chick, and it’s shown me that when you want and love something enough, you’ll gladly make some serious sacrifices for it. For me, that’s three school nights every single week of walking in the door at 11:15 PM, hyped on adrenaline, dripping sweat and reeking of body stank and funky gear. That’ll wear on you, believe me, because the alarm clock doesn’t give a fat rat’s you-know-what about how little sleep you got after you finally showered and wound down enough to zonk out.
So what is this thing that I do on skates?
Well, for one, flat-track roller derby is the fastest-growing sport in America! Leagues are everywhere – go check in YOUR city! - and it’s a wondrous mix of local, grassroots DIY’ers and serious organization (check out http://wftda.com/roller-derby). The sport is predominantly (and originally) female, but there are coed and men’s leagues popping up in quite a few places.
In a nutshell, roller derby is a race around an oval track. Each team fields five players at a time, one of whom (the “jammer”) scores points by passing opposing players, and the other four of whom (the “blockers”) try to stop the other jammer from passing, and also help their own jammer get through. It’s fast, it’s furious, it’s strategic, and yeah, there’s contact. Lots of it. If you want to learn more about it – and yes, you do – try this short intro video. It’s not perfect, but it’ll give you an idea.
Here are my answers to some common questions:
Don’t you throw elbows and punch/kick/trip/clothesline people? Ha ha, that’s hilarious!
No, and we don’t leap through flaming hoops or over alligator pits either. That staged stuff, the “old” roller derby that your parents remember, is not what we play. This is a real sport. There are very specific rules about what you can hit, and hit with, and how. We block with hips, chest, booty, shoulders…but sorry, no shivs or hair-pulling.
No lie, roller derby is expensive to start with, because you have to have skates and a full set of quality protective gear from the get-go, and the cheap stuff isn’t going to cut it. Skates cost $200-$500; a helmet, knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards, and mouthguard will run you around $150. Add in extra wheels (for different skating surfaces), and some maintenance stuff, and you’re looking at a nice chunk of change all at once, right up front. It’s definitely a gamble, because unless you live waaaaay on the wild side, you’re not going to need those gorilla-proof knee pads for anything else in life if you decide derby’s not for you. But it’s a wonderful, wonderful gamble. Because you WILL love it.
Aren’t all derby girls violent, dysfunctional, heavily-body-modded, substance-abusing man-haters?
No. You’ve been watching too many derby-themed crime-drama episodes. We’re just normal women who love to play a tough, intense sport. We’re doctors, stay-at-home moms, teachers, cashiers, soldiers, journalists. We’re 18, 28, 38, 48. We’re straight and gay and bi. We’re short and tall and scrawny and heavyset. We’re Catholic, Jewish, Mormon, Baptist, agnostic, atheist, and “other.” We listen to metal and classical and country and 80s cheese and the Wiggles. We brag about our kids, we cry about our grandmothers dying, we complain about our jobs, we swap recipes and clothes and pictures. We’re just like any other random collection of women, except with an amazing bond of sisterhood and some awesome bruises. Which leads me to…
Don’t you get hurt?
Yes. We wear full protective gear, we “skate safe,” and we have amazing league medics, but I don’t know any skater who has never gotten hurt. Most hurts are minor, though. “Rink rash” (you wanna know why we wear tights? That’s why), Velcro burns, sore muscles, and bruises of every size, color, and shape…those are par for the course. You don’t play a full-contact sport and expect to emerge unscathed, and you don’t skip practice for piddly stuff like that, by the way. This isn’t for the wimpy. Do serious injuries happen? Yes, and they’re scary and sad. I destroyed my right PCL last year at an away bout, and was utterly miserable watching practice from the sidelines for six months until I could get back on the track. We’ve had broken bones and concussions and a patella that got shoved somewhere it REALLY wasn’t supposed to be (that was gross), but we’re not going to live afraid, not when we’re all statistically far more likely to get injured or killed driving to the grocery store. It’s hard to describe how absolutely addictive roller derby is, but the fact that perfectly sane women get frantic to return after injuries ought to give you an idea.
What’s a roller derby practice like?
They’re not all the same, but this is a fair approximation of what we might do during a two-hour practice (we have three per week). On the track, geared up and skating warm-up laps, a few minutes before practice officially begins, because on time = LATE. Pull to the center for about ten minutes of stretches, then ten more minutes of core work, led by our resident yoga instructor teammate. Back on the track for 30-45 minutes of cardio – a gazillion laps of sprints and endurance slogs, interspersed with sets of push-ups and sit-ups and squats. Drink water and contemplate puking and/or dying. Decide not to. Atta girl. Back on the track for 30 minutes of drills and skate skills – weaving through a fast-paced line, jumping, stopping, pushing, hitting, holding walls tight. Drink more water and cheerfully acknowledge that you smell like the wrong end of a mildewed goat after a deviled-egg-eating contest. Divide up into squads for scrimmage, and PLAY ROLLER DERBY until they’re about to shut off the lights on you. Do a few cool-down laps and stretch in the middle one last time in the hopes that you will not be too terribly sore the next day. On the ride home, review your frustrations and triumphs with your carpool buddies; decide what you’re going to do better or different at the next practice. Wax poetic about how ravenous you are and how wretched you all smell (these topics never get old). Go home, take a shower, hang up your bad-ass cape and put your mom cape back on.
And when your job or your kids or life in general are trying to get you down, just reach down and rub the salad-plate sized bruise on your left butt cheek…and laugh. Because you got this. And tonight, after you load the dishwasher and kiss the kids good night, you get to hit people.Thank you so much Kris for sharing about roller derby, I enjoyed it. I would love to see it! Unfortunately, I'm about as uncoordinated as they come on skates (heck, even my own feet at times)... so it looks like I'll have to save my pent-up aggression for my kickboxing class! Check one out in your area... maybe you'll find a new sport to watch... or become a part of... how exciting would that be!?!