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Five ways that roller derby has ruined my life

Credit: Eric Baker
As popular as it has gotten, roller derby is still considered "alt." We are just outside of the mainstream sports world, and we're definitely fighting to get in, but there are still so many people who hang on to misconceptions and stereotypes, and people who just plain don't know anything about it.

And so, there exists a sort of "roller derby bubble." We're a subculture. We spend a lot of time together, we have our own jokes, our own lingo, and when we meet derby girls from other leagues, there's an instant connection because we're in this together, man. And when it's time to leave the bubble to go back to our normal lives, our jobs, our mundane tasks... well, let's just say: Roller derby, you're a life-ruiner. And here's how:

1. It's not acceptable to hip-check people in real life.

In roller derby, I can hit people to get them out of my way and to get them out of my jammer's way. I can get RIGHT UP ON THEIR BACKS and kind of juke around to pressure them to go faster. One hard slam with my hips, and they're sprawled out on the track. And it's totally acceptable. Heck, it's even encouraged.

I can't tell you how many times I've wanted to do this in real life. In a crowded mall? One quick twist of my hips, and I'd have a clear path. But that would be considered rude. Walking across campus to get to my classroom before the next period starts? It would be GREAT to just dart through a group of students blocking my way. But, I'd probably have a lawsuit on my hands. In traffic, when I'm running late for practice? Um, yeah, definitely NOT a great place to apply derby strategy. (Although, I do kinda... uh... follow too closely.) In the real world, roller derby behavior is unsafe, and I totally get that... but dude, my life would be so much easier.

PS - It's also not really acceptable to push a person into another person in real life. Just sayin'. 

Credit: Derby by beakertehmuppet

2. You get used to falling all the time wearing pads in derby, so when you fall in real life... you can really get hurt.

I know that lots of serious injuries have happened because of roller derby, so please don't think I'm being disrespectful of those individuals when I say that I get hurt way more often off the track than on.

Protective gear - helmet, knee pads, wrist guards, elbow pads, and mouth guard - are required for roller derby because obviously, it's an aggressive, full-contact sport. We get hit and fall a lot. One of the first things you learn how to do in roller derby is to rely on your gear, to trust that it will protect you when you hit the ground.

But, um, I fall a lot in my real life too. And I don't walk around in full protective gear, although I'm starting to feel convinced that I should. Case in point: about a year and a half ago, I was walking back to my classroom from another building when out of nowhere, I tripped (over absolutely nothing - over FLAT STABLE GROUND). Out of total muscle memory, I did a perfect knee fall, dropping my right knee to the ground to stabilize myself and to absorb the impact. I honestly think my coach would've been proud. Only, I wasn't wearing knee pads. The impact and slight skidding ripped open a hole in the knee of my jeans and, indeed, in my knee itself. I limped back to my classroom, blood dripping down my shin.

In roller derby? This fall would've been NOTHING. Just a quick tap on the ground, and then a quick up. At work? BLOODY MESS. And I'm such a baby when I get hurt too - I can take a pounding on the track, but slamming my finger in a car door? I cried for hours. (Okay, technically, that's nothing safety gear would've saved me from. But still.)

Credit: Sara Grafil
3. Not all your coworkers in real life will hit and take hits for you.

Roller derby is often compared to having a second job, and extending that metaphor, I would say that teammates are like your coworkers.

This isn't a strike against the people I work with (whom I adore and think are wonderful), but I would be hard-pressed to find anyone who would subject themselves to physical violence for each other the way that my teammates would.

Derby sisterhood is a unique sort of relationship. We spend a LOT of time together, a lot of sweaty, close-contact time. We experience each other's highs and lows, whether it's a bad practice, a derby breakthrough, a bad breakup, or the birth of new children. I'm fairly sure that most of us cycle together as well, which leads to some intense practices a couple times a month. We do actually WORK together, planning events and deciding policy and doing a lot of what a brand-new company would do to get off the ground... but what it all really boils down to is that we've got each other's backs. Like, literally - I throw myself in the path of other skaters to help us win. I knock other full-grown adults to the ground to try to keep them from picking on my jammer. And when I get trapped at the back of the pack by the other team, I know that my teammates will do the same for me. And the funny thing is, whether I'm playing in a bout with my own leaguemates or I'm skating in a mixed scrimmage or tournament with skaters from all over the place, I know that I can depend on this to happen. Because that's derby. We risk injury trying to help and protect each other. That's derby love.

And I have a hard time finding friendships quite like that outside of derby. (Trust me - I've tried to get friends and coworkers to join PRG, and they won't do it.)

Credit: Jim Cottingham
4. Not everything in real life gets better purely through hard work.

This is a big one for me. Roller derby is awesome because nowhere else have I found it to be more true, that if you're willing to put in the effort, you will get results. Sure, having a talent for skating helps, but the truth is that SO MANY skaters began roller derby without having spent so much as a minute on wheels previous to strapping on their gear for their first practice.As Coach Pandamonium once told me, "everyone's path to roller derby is different," but it is absolutely true that if you work hard enough and if you want it badly enough, you can be successful at this sport.

It doesn't matter if you're not built like an athlete. In derby, you can be successful if you're tall, short, skinny, fat, muscular, any shape, any size, any ethnicity. I might throw in "any income level," but the truth is that gear, uniforms, and dues are expensive. But I know girls who can make that work too, and leagues who help them, because we take care of each other.

The real world just isn't like that. Even if you did want it badly enough and even if you did work hard enough, there are other things that get in the way of you achieving success - other people's prejudices, glass ceilings, lack of opportunities, lack of privilege.

In derby, I know that - for example - I could probably be a jammer if I really wanted to. I would need to work really hard, seize the opportunities to jam when I can, and just really push at it, and I think I could do it. (I just don't want to at this particular moment.) But in real life, I can't achieve x because I'm a woman. I can't do y because I'm fat. I'll never be z because I'm Asian. The Horatio Alger American Dream -type story is a farce.

Derby has me believing that anyone can achieve greatness starting completely from scratch, but in real life, it's just not that way.

5. Last but not least... I am never as cool or glamorous or badass or heroic in real life as I am when I'm playing roller derby.

Credit: JAM Photography
I was invited to be a part of a photo project called "Day and Night." Pretty self-explanatory - the photos show the contrast between the subject's day job and nighttime hobby.

I'm a high school English teacher, and while it is satisfying and rewarding, it is also stressful and unglamorous. I don't go to bars or clubs - I knit and read and blog and hang out with my family. I'm exactly the photo on the left (except my normal, everyday lighting is not nearly so flattering). I'm Thu, and I'm quiet and shy. I'm laid-back. I'm introverted.

Except for the two nights out of the week when I'm the photo on the right. When I'm Viva Glam.

And then I'm intense. And I'm aggressive. I've been told by other jammers that they feel a little wary when they see me line up in front of them.

Credit: Jim Cottingham

I don't feel like that in my normal life, ever. I don't even LOOK like that in my normal life. (Nor do I even have many photos of my normal life - since joining derby, the amount of pictures that I have of myself has increased, like, tenfold. And I'm not the most photographed skater that I know, either.)

When I skate, I feel like a superhero. Literally, being on skates makes me feel like I'm flying. I feel invincible because, as the song goes, "I get knocked down, but I get up again. You're never gonna keep me down." I feel like a proud, beautiful warrior.

And it's HARD to shake off that feeling when I get home, and then do the laundry. It's hard to put away the superhero alter-ego and then grill chicken for dinner. I want to be badass ALL THE TIME!

Roller derby, you have ruined normal life for me forever. And I wouldn't have it any other way.


  1. Glam, this is such a beautiful blog post! I love it! Every bit is true-- especially the part about throwing hip checks around.

  2. ditto what bullet said! so well written, and incredibly true.


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