I was going to write a post on what I’m working towards in 2014, but to be honest, that could just come back to haunt me, if I don’t achieve it. So, instead I’ve decided to talk about something that has has an amazing positive impact on my life in 2013 (and hopefully forever more) – Roller Derby.
I discovered Derby in July 2012. I was sat at home on crutches and in a leg brace having just dislocated my kneecap (for the fourth time) and my darling cat Mia had just died. I was a bit of a mess. I was feeling pretty rubbish and surfing Netflix and I came across Whip It (a film about roller derby starring Drew Barrymore and Ellen Page). After watching it, I had this massive realisation that this was something I had to be a part of. I really, really wanted to skate. I looked up my local league – the frankly rather excellent Auld Reekie Roller Girls – and went along to a bout. I loved it so much that I decided to enrol on their Fresh Meat training programme.
First of all, unlike Whip It, Roller Derby is not women in fishnets and skates punching each other in the face (how horrible would that be?!) It’s actually pretty much the opposite of that; skaters are athletes who do a huge amount of on and off skates training and are really supportive of each other. Roller Derby is a real sport with leagues recognised by the Womens Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA). The wonderful thing about it, is that it’s skater owned and operated, so league members are all involved in every single aspect of running the league from organising games, training new recruits, securing funding and sponsorship, events management, creating promotional materials and marketing events; and as this is all done voluntarily the sport is evolving in the interests of skaters rather than corporate sponsors.
So here is why joining derby was one of the best things I did in 2013, and reasons that I love Roller Derby in general (and ARRG in particular).
There’s a place for everyone
There is a lovely welcoming, encouraging atmosphere at Fresh Meat practices; the coaches are fabulous and push you to do your best. I skate with skaters who are all different shapes/ sizes/ages and from all kinds of backgrounds/jobs. Its such a great way to meet a varied bunch of lovely people. And we all go to the pub afterwards with crazy sweaty helmet hair.
Determination and fitness
Roller Derby drills are physically hard. And you ache all over the next day for the first few practices. It’s also mentally hard; like struggling to master a new skill, or perceiving other skaters progressing faster can be a challenge. For me, having a shitty knee makes me nervous and overly cautious sometimes, which is something I have to work on. I just have to keep telling myself I have dislocated it four times doing very mundane things (like brushing my teeth – true story) so what the heck. Plus, building up muscle in glutes/quads/calves/core/everywhere really is conducive to happy knees as opposed to sitting at a computer all the time which equals very sad knees indeed.
Becoming a good skater makes me go to the gym. Losing weight and dress sizes has never ever motivated me to do exercise – having the fitness, strength and endurance to be able to skate with awesome skaters does. Derby practice also makes me push myself, like when I feel like I’m going to throw up or fall over, I try and put it out my head and kind of zone out, I think, although I’m not sure, that this might be what ‘focus’ is! It’s pretty cool what you can push your body to do, which brings me to my next point…
There is far too much emphasis on what women’s bodies look like. Magazines are constantly telling us what we should look like and how to ‘fix’ parts of ourselves, mainly by losing weight, buying clothes and make up. We are projects, in need of constant aesthetic improvement. This is at best boring and expensive and at worst oppressive and psychologically damaging. If, however, the focus is shifted on to what your body can do, things get interesting. Working towards learning new skills, working as part of a team and pushing myself out of my comfort zone for four months has worked wonders for me. I’m proud of what I have achieved, but also can’t wait to learn more, I’m fitter, a bit more toned, but also from simply shifting that focus to what my body can do, I’m quite happily still a size 14 and I love that my quads and calves are getting bigger, because they’ll make me a better skater.
I absolutely hate being in the spotlight or doing something on my own in front of a group of people. Strapping on skates for the first time in 10/20 years (or ever!) is scary, in fact for the first few practices, its scary. Practices force you to try and do something that you can’t do in front of people you admire and cheer for on a Saturday. It makes you realise what you’re made of. I also really love the general ethos of the league, people from all different backgrounds, shapes, sizes and fitness levels – and really you’re just encouraged to do your best and push yourself. Anyone can do this if you practice lots and train hard.
I can’t put my finger on it, but in many ways derby feels important. I think its really exciting that this sport has been developed primarily by and for women, and there are now also male and co-ed (mixed) leagues starting, and as a result people are coming together, getting fitter and achieving awesome things. Not to mention Junior Roller Derby, these kids will be amazing by the time they are in adult teams, it’s exciting to think where they will take the sport. I also feel that its important and empowering for women to mentor each other and play an awesome sport together. To my knowledge, women have never ‘owned’ a sport before, and I think its important that they do, what with being a huge proportion of the population and all.
Overall, Roller Derby has had an excellent positive impact on my wellbeing. It has been responsible for me getting up 5:30am to go to the gym, not drinking wine on a Saturday night, designing flyers until the wee small hours and also baking for bout days instead of going to the pub. Its made me fitter, built my confidence and made me feel a part of something that is super exciting.
Everyone I have introduced to derby absolutely loves it. so much so that three of my friends are now in training with me (and I’m always trying to recruit folk!). Saturday afternoon bouts are so much fun, aside from the excellent action filled game, there’s cool merchandise, cakes, and roller girl/ crowd high five round the track at the end. The atmosphere is lovely, its inclusive, its fun, its competitive, its badass whilst also completely family friendly, with kids dancing in the crowd and skating out as mascots with the teams. Plus I think it’s really positive for kids to see women competing in a full contact sport.
And at the end it feels like you’ve had a giant hug.
The season kicks off on 1 February 2014. Event and ticket details on the ARRG website.
Also, Auld Reekie Roller Girls are currently number one in the UK Roller Derby Ranking Table
Photography by Breame