When it comes to roller derby, a lot of skaters love to make public the photograph of them landing an epic hit or stylishly escaping the pack to gain lead jammer status — the moment in the bout when their derby name didn’t seem like a mistake, but more like a rightfully-earned badge. Nevertheless, I have always been in love with this image of “Tsu Legit 2 Quit” that was taken near the end of my debut as a Derby Devil just over two years ago. For a brief period, I considered making it my holiday postcard to send to friends and family, but then I realized I’ve never been the type to send holiday postcards to friends and family. I know… I’m working on it.
Tomorrow will be the last time I skate with my team in the Hostess City, and, for a while, the last time I’ll be doing derby until I put my roots and quads down for graduate school. My impression of and love for the sport has come a long way since being dared to go through boot camp by a coworker at the newspaper: (See “Rolling with the punches” here.)
I remember thinking the ladies I encountered that summer seemed larger than life — the Jems, She-Ras and yes, even Ursellas of underground athletics. But now that I’ve gotten to sweat alongside them and learn their off-skates stories, the best thing I’ve come to find out is that they’re not superheroes… anymore than I am. Yes, I respect them. Admire them. Consider them powerful. But like me, they had a time when they couldn’t stand on their skates, take a hit or even think about lifting a leg up to do a crossover. And, they still have their moments when just coming to practice is the only energy they can muster that day. The one thing that we do all have in common is that we are the kind of women who made it a choice to rise (and fall) to the occasion. We showed up, and we keep coming back. That, to me, is derby.
Now that the sport is past its revival stage and hundreds of teams exist in cities large and small across the country and globe, it’s been interesting to see how even the skaters have changed their view of what derby should look like. Some women have started skating using their real names instead of their personas in a bout. While I’ll always have a place in my heart (and cell phone) for monikers like Pin Up Aggression, Mt. Killajamma and Felony Melanie, it is a nice thought to realize that “derby” is something we’ve always had in us, just as we were, before the fishnets and fake eyelashes. The thrill of the sport is in knowing what you went through to be able to skate in a pack, score a point or whip a teammate to the front while blocking an offender and dodging a hit in one breath. It’s less about being a badass.
Since my first impression of roller derby went to print in 2007, I’m no longer in kelly green rental skates, thinking of registering the name Punky Bruisestar or wearing someone else’s oversized helmet at practice. One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is my feeling that “there’s something to be said about a sport that finds a hard-earned bruise beautiful and recognizes there’s more at risk when you’re afraid to fall.”
Who knew that being knocked down could lead to such building up? Thank you, ladies. It’s been so much more than just a pleasure.