I first saw Roller Derby being played by The Chicago Outfit in late 2010. I didn’t realise then that crossing roller derby off my travel to-see list would change my life. I didn’t think we even had derby in Australia, but a player called Lady K told me that Melbourne had a growing derby scene and that I should look into it.
About 3 months later, I put on some hired skates at my local rink and joined in the casual Saturday afternoon class with the obnoxious 7-year-olds. Boy oh boy can they be arseholes when they’re better than you at something! You can’t clothesline them either, because their parents are watching.
I remember thinking that if I could ever do crossovers, I would be the most graceful person in the world.
We were working on backwards scissors. I was having the hardest time – I couldn’t even believe I’d managed forwards scissors, and attempting backwards seemed impossible.
“Are you still on your first lap?” enquired one of the obnoxions.
I tried to remain positive through gritted teeth.
“Oh.” She paused between scissors with her feet neatly together. “I’m on my fourth.”
The end of the class came and I still hadn’t gotten from one end of the rink to the other without stopping. All the other little girls in the class went gracefully rolling off to their parents, who praised their skating and bought them icypoles to stave off the sweltering Melbourne Summer heat in the corrugated iron rink shed.
I stayed. I was not going to leave until I had done a full length of the rink in backwards scissors without stopping. I huffed and I puffed through the general skate, I swore under my breath and I used muscles I didn’t know I had (a feeling that would become irritatingly familiar throughout my derby progress).
Then, somehow… I did it. The instructor was at the end as I got there, and she laughed at the giant grin on my face. I held up my hands and she gave me ten.
Then I skated off and bought myself a icypole – because I deserved it.
And when I passed Star 1 level and they gave me my certificate, I was so proud that I put it on the fridge to show my Dad.
Several months of making it to class when I could, two skating star class levels, and my own pair of derby skates later, I braved my first derby development class. The casual classes that this league ran worked so much better for my busy busy life than committing to another, closer, league’s fresh meat intake. I didn’t think I could tie myself in to two or three nights a week.
After that first class, I only missed about 2 sessions in 6 months.
The first session was unbelievable. I brought my dad’s bike helmet with me then tried to hide it (and my embarrassment) when I saw the gear the league had to lend to newbies. I got a decent helmet, but I think I ended up with mismatched elbow pads on my knees.
During the next hour I pushed myself so hard physically; harder than this sport-hating, exercise-avoiding performing arts nerd had ever gone before. The last time I’d been part of any sport was in primary school (my basketball team only won three times, coincidentally the games I didn’t play,) and here I was doing laps (laps?!) back and forth on the rink with single knee taps! I panted and sweated and hoped upon hope that my legs would keep holding me up and nobody would see how much they were shaking.
But this was derby, and derby girls don’t complain; derby girls push through and get on with it. Derby girls don’t apologise and derby girls suck it up, princess. So I put on a brave face and pushed. By the end of the lesson I’d jumped over 3inch cones (only falling on my arse once – and not even crying!) and worked on the move made so popular by Drew Barrymore, whips. I had scuffed up the toes of my derby skates – someone came running over to me with gaffer tape, but I couldn’t have been more proud.
I think it’s good to look back on where you started. Every time you get frustrated with a new skill you just can’t get, or a new level that makes you feel out of your depth, think about how far you’ve come. January 2011 me is super impressed that I can do scissors and crossovers. August 2011 me is amazed that I can be so comfortable skating in such close proximity to others. December 2011 me has a fist in the air when she sees me do a sweet plough stop, January 2012 me is stoked that I can do turn around toe stops at all and April 2012 me is pretty darn proud of how much I understand the rules of the game now. Every wall I come up against will one day just be one of those ‘me’s cheering the present day me on. And it’s nice to have so many people back there supporting me.