I love roller derby. I think most of the people I know love it too; but there comes a point when you have to step back from it, look at it for what it is, and think about whether the ‘roller derby til I die’ mantra might be a little unfair on you.
I have been skating for just over one year. Although I’m no Kamikaze Kitten, I can go pretty fast and get low. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved, and I’m proud of what my fellow skaters have achieved, but the thing I’m most proud of is the thing that I also feel a bit guilty about: my attitude towards the game.
As with any sport, there have been ups and downs in the time that I’ve been training with Croydon Roller Derby. Ligaments have made peculiar popping sounds; I’ve been made to do Infinite Jammer with a dreadful hangover. I’ve gone to training with the sudden, sad death of a friend on my mind. I’ve put my skates on after a six –hour tattoo session. I’m not trying to say that I’m particularly hardcore – I’m not – but there has been one, singular reason that I haven’t let the peaks and troughs of derby affect me in the same way that other things have.
It’s just a game.
I do feel like I’m missing out a bit on the ‘derby is life’ attitude. I know women who eat, sleep and breathe roller derby, who spend every moment of their free time on skates; and who consequently beat themselves up because of how much they love it. Roller derby has given them a kind of freedom and power and, understandably, they want to feel like they are doing justice to this wonderful sport. I wish I had that conviction, but although I love derby, it isn’t my whole life, and I don’t feel I owe it any more than I’m giving it. Derby has made me happier, and healthier, but is hasn’t saved me.
Derby is certainly part of life. I spend a lot of time training, and thinking about skating, and meeting up with the other skaters – I LOVE bouting, and hearing the question “will you jam next?”, and losing sucks and winning rocks, but it has never given me a sleepless night. It has never made me cry and I’ve never felt that I’m not good enough for it. It’s a game, and because I haven’t made it my life, it has never stopped being fun. It’s like alcohol – small amounts now and then make me feel awesome, but if I drank constantly, I’d be drained and sick and I probably wouldn’t love it. There you go. Roller derby = beer.
I love waking up late, having coffee in bed and watching Adventure Time on my laptop a lot more than I love going to the gym. I know I SHOULD go, but I don’t feel like a massive failure when I don’t. I worry about the future – I worry that I’ll be stuck working in a bar for the rest of my life while my personal dreams and ambitions float just out of reach. Yes, occasionally I worry that I should glue my left toe-stop on because it keeps coming out. More often, I wonder whether there will ever be enough in my savings to travel around America.
Here’s a corny anecdote about fencing. When I did fencing, I let the sport consume me. The social aspect and all the drama that went with it; the pressure of the competitions; and the constant fear of not being good enough hindering my performance. I spent stupid amounts of money on kit, thinking that better equipment would make me a better fencer. I loved fencing so much that I grew to resent it for not loving me back, because there was always someone better, someone faster, and that someone didn’t love it as much as I did, and that meant that their victories against me were unfair. A couple of years on, I realise how ridiculous that was.
Fencing, the be-all and end-all of my existence for two or three years, is a sport where two people in white gimpsuits hop around poking each other with blunted swords.
Roller derby, my favourite pastime and the basis of much of my social life, is a sport where women put on rollerskates and whizz around in an oval shape trying to hit each other. It’s kind of funny when you think about it.
You think Betty Crocker flipped a table every time she burnt a sponge? The sport that you play is not an entity – it is a pastime. It is a series of movements and tactics and skills that you assimilate into your lifestyle. You are what you do, so you are the sport. There will always be someone better than you – someone who has been skating for years and years, who never takes their skates off and who has the most up-to-date gear – but that doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve to do the sport.
You don’t need to beat yourself up, derby girl. It’s just a game.