SBS Comes to Derby
The first time I saw roller derby was at a Mad Rollin Dolls bout. When the Unholy Rollers skated out in their gold and red uniforms, I thought I had never seen anyone look so cool. They were confident, they moved so surely in their skates and they were in control of the crowd. Unlike most proto-derby skaters, “I want to be one of them” never even crossed my mind. I couldn’t be one of them. They were gods among us mortals. That’s how cool they looked.
During the game, which made absolutely no sense to me, I watched as a jammer attempted to call off the jam while heading face first into the floor. But she didn’t stop calling off the jam. No, she flew through the air, watching the ground get closer and closer to her beautiful face, tapping her hips over and over to strategically end game play. She didn’t put her hands out to stop herself, she went face first into the ground. I knew in that moment that I would never be a derby skater. I didn’t like being hit, falling down or getting hurt. These women were not only cool, they were tough.
Years later, the opportunity to volunteer with a newly forming derby league presented itself. I had only watched two games in real life, but I was still new in town and looking to make friends. Volunteering and organized sports seemed like two good options. Despite having no background in skating or officiating sports, I signed up to train as a referee. “They don’t get hit in the face,” I thought to myself.
To be a ref, I was going to have to learn the rules, how to enforce them and how to skate all at once. The best way for me to do that was to go through “boot camp” with the new skaters. Once they started hitting each other, it would be my cue to skate off and spend time reading the rules instead.
During those weeks between when I felt comfortable wearing skates and my fellow boot campers started hitting, a change happened. Derby was no longer a mystery of cool, tough women. I got to know these new skaters. They were stay at home moms and school teachers. They were Star Trek geeks and bookworms.
And not all of them were inherently tough. Plenty of them hated falling down just as much as I did. But when we would fall down in practice, we’d all get back up, just the same. As I got more comfortable with my fellow skaters and with falling down, derby skating didn’t seem so intimidating anymore. I looked around at my fellow boot camp learners and realized that there was no real difference between them and myself. If they could play derby-- get hit, fall down, skate fast-- then so could I.*
Derby isn’t about being inherently athletic, or tough, or cool. Derby is a place where you can try new things and explore your own comfort zone limits. And you get to look cool doing it.
*Disclaimer-- even after i decided that I was willing to be a skater, I stayed a referee for almost a year first so that I could do other things in my personal time, like plan a wedding, get married and take an extended honeymoon in another hemisphere. While it was frustrating to not be able to play right away with the women I went through bootcamp with, I had time to learn the rules better, and build a lot of empathy for Officials. If you haven’t refereed or NSO’d a game, sign up to do it right away. These amazing volunteers deserve that empathy.
- Susan B. Slamthony