An Epic Worldwide Documentary
& Roller Derby Adventure

Project Blog
Sep 2011 22

Born on the 4th of July

Posted in Project Blog by Juvie

July 4, 2009: the day I was birthed into my new derby way of life. I remember it like it was, well, kind of a long time ago. (A lot has happened since then, okay?) What I do remember is that, like an actual birth, my derby birth was hot, sticky, kinda gross, and full of uncertainty.

Oregon experienced a record-breaking heatwave in the summer of 2009. Temperatures repeatedly reached around 107 degrees that month and it felt at least ten times hotter in the old metal airplane hangar the Rose City Rollers call home. I entered the hangar for the first day of the month-long derby boot camp with no small amount of trepidation. Who was I to think that, at the ripe old age of 31, I could learn to roller skate, much less actually play roller derby? I had never really played a sport before. Law school and the more-than-full-time job that followed had not been kind to my health or physique (or my psyche, for that matter). Moreover, I thought there was a good chance I might pass out from the heat just walking to the bleachers to put on my gear. I was convinced the other skaters would stand over me as I lay unconscious and proclaim me to be the poser I felt I was.

I had purchased my bottom-of-the-line skates and safety gear only days before the boot camp and I almost didn’t know what to do with all of it. I think I put my wrist guards on wrong-side up the first time. I had forgotten to boil and fit my ginormous purple mouthguard. As I laced up my skates, donned the rest of my not-as-yet-stinky gear, and stuffed the ridiculous hunk of purple plastic into my mouth, I was flooded with misgivings. “What the hell am I doing? I’m too old for this. I look fat and stupid in all this stuff. Humans aren’t supposed to have wheels on their feet. How do I even stand up in these things without something to hold onto? I am so not cool enough to do this.” Somehow, despite these misgivings and with a forced purple plastic idiot grin, I managed to zombie-shuffle my way to the middle of the track, where the other boot campers were congregating around our new coaches.

The first thing I learned at boot camp was that derby girls delight in scaring the crap out of new skaters. Knowing what I know now, I don’t blame them. I’m guilty of it now, too. Well, maybe we don’t delight in it; it’s more like we have accepted as normal things a new skater can’t even imagine yet. Once you’ve survived a few hematomas, a cracked rib or two, or a teensy ligament tear, you realize all that stuff is really not so bad when balanced against the incomparable joy of playing derby. Hence, it’s pretty easy to joke about the palm-sized sack of fluid in your left outer thigh, your latest trip to physical therapy, or how you puked twice at endurance practice last week, and not even notice the new skater you’re talking to is about to fear-puke right then and there.

On my first day, though, after one of the coaches explained the “(va)giner shiner” and used it as an illustration of why falling forward is always better than falling backward on your own skate, I was anxious, to say the least. First of all, I wasn’t used to this kind of frank, vulgar discussion of sensitive parts of the anatomy. I was an uptight ivory tower type and my delicate sensibilities took a punch straight to the face that day.  Second, I had no frame of reference for the cost-benefit analysis the experienced skaters had performed. I simply could not understand how playing derby could be worth the risk of personal injury. My only point of reference was the one bout I’d attended at the expo center, where it all looked like fun and games and no one lost an eye.

After an hour of boot camp, I was far from excited about this new adventure. In fact, I wasn’t at all sure I would come back for the next practice. But I did go back. I can’t really say why. Maybe the dangerously high hangar temperature cooked my brain. Maybe I was somewhat reassured by the looks of fear and confusion in the eyes of my fellow boot campers. Maybe I just really, really needed an outlet for the anger and frustration of my ultra stressful life. Or maybe, just maybe, my subconscious recognized the collective wisdom of the women of the league. If so many women chose to skate, despite the steep learning curve and the very real risk of injury, there must be something about derby that was worth it, right? And so, in a heat-induced stupor and against my better grown-up judgment, I committed to sticking it out with all the other sweaty newborns who zombie-shuffled around the track with me on July 4, 2009.

It was the best decision I ever made.