Roller Derby Saved My Soul
I am a cliché. One of the most popular roller derby memes and car decals reads “Roller derby saved my soul”. I am a cliché because this is me. 100% absolutely, through and through. But damn am I ever happy this is the case.
It’s Fresh Meat season. If you’re friends with any rollerskaters or derby players, your facebook feed is likely littered with event invites to Learn to Roller Derby sessions and Fresh Meat programs. Why derby is obsessed with referring to new skaters as meat is to be honestly beyond me, but it is. In our own league, the Mainland Misfits Roller Derby Association, we have skaters of many ages, backgrounds, careers, and even some from the big ol’ USA. One of our recruitment strategies this year is to feature a series of blogs on skaters from different walks of life and how/why/when they got started in derby. I present to you the story of a typical middle aged female going through the (cue the sad horn) dreaded divorce.
I watched my first derby bout in 2013. I loved it. This particular game had a roaring crowd that filled a whole venue to the brim. I, like every single derby player out there and many more, had seen Whip It and fancied I might be able to try this derby thing out. Watching the game in 2013 solidified that desire, but for some reason it took me 2 years to put skates on. I finally started because I felt like my life was boring, I had no hobbies. And because my marriage was starting to fail.
As any new player will tell you, starting out in skating and derby takes guts. Buying the gear alone costs upward of $300 if you buy new (but there are options!), so you kinda want to be sure you’re going to like it. And then you gotta have the guts to step out onto the floor for the first time. Like me, you might be surprised to find you could skate around….but oh yeah, I didn’t know how to stop. Oops! Luckily derby is filled with folks who just want you to love skating as much as they love skating, so they show you stuff. I started out learning in 2015 through the now non-existent Raw Meat program in New Westminster. It was awesome- they showed me everything I needed to know. After a short period of time I was upgrading some of my basic skate stuff at everyone’s favourite Rollergirl. They asked who I planned to try out for and told me about the Mainland Misfits, which were close to my home of the time in Maple Ridge. I started skating with the 2015 Misfits Fresh Meat program and in 6 short months had passed my minimum skills, was rostered on the entry level team the Doomsday Bunnies in February 2016, and was off to our first tournament in Armstrong to find out was this game was really about.
My first year was hard. Really hard. I am a perfectionist and type A, so I was harder on myself than any coach or teammate could have been (spoiler alert: I still am). I was just talented enough that I was asked to play with an intermediate team soon after finishing fresh meat. It was an incredible challenge but I would not say it was smooth. I’ve never been an athlete. Beyond playing field hockey for a season in high school because they were short players (aside…I managed to secure Most Improved Player that season…mostly because when it started I picked the ball up frequently since I hated using the stick), I had never been on a sports team. Learning to be on a sports team and be constantly critiqued by coaches as an adult is NOT easy. I cried a lot. I cried sometimes cause I skated well and I cried most of the time cause I skated poorly. I cried cause I was getting separated. I cried cause I was selling my house. I cried cause my dog died. Not joking. But you know what was amazing? My team mates were A-ok with hanging out with Crying McTears face. Derby people are awesome. They all understand that somehow being on the track and working your butt off has this incredible way of bringing out raw emotions (for some of us). They didn’t judge. They just let me keep coming back, working hard, and crying. Low and behold, it got easier. Not just the skating, but the life stuff too. I literally skated my way through the worst 18 months of my life. If I had a good day I skated, if I had a bad day I skated even harder. Somehow learning these new skills, learning to work with a team, and sweating it out made it all seem a little more manageable. 2017 has been even better. I don’t cry hardly at all any more! And my team mates have mostly realized I’m actually a pretty happy fun person, now that all that cruddy stuff has passed.
If you’re not going through tough stuff, derby is still a great thing to try out. Two reasons why: skating rocks and derby people rock even more. I love skating. Recently I was doing some self reflection (yeah yeah, I know) on what makes me happy, what makes me feel relaxed. Skating was there, top of the list. Sometimes in tough practices I lose sight of this, but when I am out, playing around on my skates, I remember. I’d rather skate than walk, run or do just about anything. Also I have met some of the most incredible people in derby. People that I would not have met in any other way; our lives literally just would not have crossed. Some of them are amazing friends to me, some are mentors, and some are just great team mates who want us all to succeed, but they’re all awesome.
Come try out roller derby. Your soul may not need saving, but all of us could use a good soul shining up and buffing. Our info night, Punch and Pie, is October 1 at the Alice McKay building in the Cloverdale fairgrounds. Doors at 8, demo and info starts at 8:30. And yes there will be pie! If you don’t live locally, go check out skating with your local league. You won’t regret it.