Who's Wholigan

The following scenario occurs at least once a week.

In this case, I was in a sporting goods store looking to pick up a few pairs of extra long socks.

One of the salespeople was making small talk when I revealed the nature of my purchase.  [Insert jazz hands here.]

“So…what do you play?

“Roller derby.”

You play roller derby?”

“Yes. I’m on The Chicago Outfit.“ Yes, me. All 5’1” of not-particularly-athletic-looking-or-intimidating me.

“Oh man, I was just watching Whip It last night.”

“Nice. It’s kind of like that, but not exactly. We don’t play on a banked track. And if you intentionally throw an elbow you’ll get thrown out, to name a few differences.”

“I don’t really get the scoring system.”

“Well, the jammer scores a point for each member of the opposing team she successfully passes. But she doesn’t earn any points on her first time through the pack, she has to make it through once before she can score.”

“Oh, okay.”

“You should come see us play. It makes a lot more sense in person.”



Cool doesn’t even begin to cover it, but at the same time it’s just like having any other new hobby. I love meeting and getting to know new people. I love acquiring new skills and facing all the challenges learning entails. The only difference is that this hobby is on roller skates and comes balled up with so many preconceptions about identity: what derby is or should be, who derby girls are or should be, and that it’s difficult to see the forest for the trees.

We’re not a homogenous bunch. The people who get into roller derby aren’t all rough n’ tumble, but neither were we all saved by the roller derby angel who fell from the sky in a magical shower of fairy dust to pluck us out of a sea of self-doubt and mindless day jobs.  We may be novel, but we’re not a novelty.

I play derby because I was a journalist looking for a good story and, by Bliss, I found one.

A story lead can hit you from any number of directions. When I was taking a magazine writing class in grad school, one of my favorite web comics (Girls With Slingshots) introduced a character that played roller derby. I began to notice posters for our local leagues plastered around town. And that handy thing the Internet told me that there was an organization called Derby Lite that would teach me to skate for fun and fitness. I wrote one story…and then a longer one…and then I did a photo essay. Finally came the light bulb moment that made me realize that actually, yes, this was something I couldn’t get enough of. I wanted to be a part of it as opposed to reporting on it. When I took a short stint at a newspaper in Ireland for three months, I also took a leap and started fresh meat training with the amazing Dublin Roller Girls. When I came back to the states I knew I needed to try out for a home team.

I play because the only boundaries in roller derby are the ones you construct for yourself; a played out cliché, but only because it’s so true. I play because I love being part of an organization that tirelessly strives to better itself and make the world a little bit better for others. I play because it’s fun. I play because I hope one day I won’t have to explain what roller derby is and I especially hope that I won’t have to justify why I play it.


Sporting good sales-dude, you could play too. There’s also men’s roller derby and our A-team The Syndicate just had a really awesome scrimmage against the Chicago Bruise Brothers last week.


FYI: We won.

- Wholigan