Change your life: Try Roller Derby!

Advice, Random thoughts and encouragement from Lamp and B

When I attended my first Fresh Meat practice, I hadn’t been on skates in about 15 years. I was pretty much scared out of my mind, not knowing if the other newbies would actually be former professional figure skaters or marathon runners or unicyclists or anything that would accentuate my absolute lack of athletic skill. Thankfully, I was going with my friend and fellow grad student, B (pro tip #1: bring a friend — it makes starting out a lot less scary), who, though more athletic than I [B here: Lamp means I visited a gym once or twice], hadn’t worn skates since they looked like Legos and were made by Fisher-Price.

When we got to the gym, what we found instead was myriad women, young and old…er, most of whom were as rusty as we were. Our first first lesson started with the most elementary of basics, like how to not put your helmet on backwards, how to prevent yourself from rolling into the bleachers upon standing upright on eight wheels, and how to breathe through your mouth when rifling through the wonderfully free-to-use yet decidedly un-fresh Fresh Meat gear (pro tip #2: if you think you’re gonna stick with derby for even a little bit, it’s a great idea to invest in an intro pad kit. They’re inexpensive and don’t smell like the sweat of a thousand butt-kicking derby girls).

Within just a few Fresh Meat practices (thanks to so many uber-patient and helpful derby veterans), we were zipping around the track, learning about pack work, practicing agility drills, and falling to the floor safely (if only moderately gracefully). We learned so much, so quickly; every Sunday we’d marvel at our own progress (“Dude, I didn’t fall today!”) and that of our soon-to-be teammates (“Sick T-stop!”), and together we’d all celebrate that evening’s work with well-earned nachos (pro tip #3: you always deserve nachos after practice). Our time as Fresh Meat got us addicted to the Derby Life. We’ve recently celebrated our Derby-versary (one year since our first Fresh Meat practice!) and don’t plan on quitting any time soon.

It’s hard to think of a good reason not to try derby. So, if you’re thinking about trying a practice out but are on the fence, here is a sampling of some of the benefits of joining:

FRIENDSHIPS: Maybe you’ve noticed, but making new friends when you’re an adult is hard. Unless you’re in college, you’re probably not around a new, dynamically changing group of people on a regular basis. The Dames are just that — an all-inclusive bunch of everything. They’re probably cooler than your co-workers, and they’re friendly, funny, and smart on top of that.

REPLACE YOUR FAMILY: Well, okay, not literally. But in derby culture, we have derby sisters. Generally, this is when a more advanced skater asks a newer skater to be their little sister. With this come all the benefits of siblinghood — someone to get advice from, to call when you need help (whether it’s related to derby or not), someone to generally have your back — all without the drama of, you know, actually being related to someone! There are also derby wives (and mistresses, too!) who provide all the spice that comes from having a committed derby bestie by your side, at practice and away. Did you never get your dream proposal? Now’s your chance!

COOL FACTOR: Do you know how many people, after telling them we do roller derby, have said, “Wow, that’s super lame. You must be a big ol’ pansy. Give me your lunch money!”? Aside from the fact that that would just be a weird thing to say, the answer is NO ONE. NO ONE EVER. The most common response, perhaps after, “What’s roller derby?,” is, “WOW! THAT IS SO COOL! YOU MUST BE SUPER TOUGH!!!” (unless they are someone who is familiar enough with us to know that we’re actually big ol’ pansies). Point being, if you tell someone you do roller derby, you pretty much automatically gain, like, a thousand cool points, even if you still look like a newborn fawn every time you put on skates. And eventually, if you stick with it long enough, you will reach a point where you start to agree with them.

MUSCLES: We are both one of those people who happens to be genetically predisposed to have chunky thighs. We could do cardio eight hours a day and eat nothing but salads and our thighs would still flap wildly when the breeze hits them. This is a fact that we’ve managed to accept, even embrace. But that hasn’t stopped us from noticing the emergence of some SWEET muscles, muscles in places we didn’t even know we had muscles. We can feel our legs getting stronger, whether it’s by our newfound adeptness at bounding up stairs or the ease with which we can hover over gas station toilets. It is a rewarding and hard-earned kind of strength.

LEVELING UP: In most people’s lives, the only time they get to experience the singular satisfaction of leveling up is in a video game. In derby, however, you get the opportunity to fulfill that glorious, primal desire. Every month in Fresh Meat practice, there is a test on the skills you’ve been working on. If you pass, you become a LEVEL ONE SKATER, which, besides feeling like an epic accomplishment, gives you the privilege of attending Level One practices. What’s the difference? Well, for one, they’re harder — you will be working on advanced skills and more derby-relevant techniques, as well as learning the rules of the game. Perhaps more tantalizing, at Level One practices you can actually HIT each other! And what better way to let out the stress of a long work day than by hip checking your friends?

NON-BOUTING: Whether you’re just starting or you’ve been a member for a while, there are varied opportunities for all skill levels. In other words, if a year into it you’re starting to think you don’t want to bout but still want to be a Derby Dame, you can continue going to practices, and there are plenty of roles you can fill as a non-bouting member. You can volunteer at bouts, become a non-skating official, be a trainer, and participate in our committees. The Dames are more than just athletes — we also volunteer widely in the community.

BOUTING: With time, you can advance to a much-vaunted Level Two skater. Along with this comes access to even more challenging practices, as well as the opportunity to join a team and participate in a bout. By then, you will have picked your own name, number, and persona, gotten your personalized jersey, and decided what you want your battle socks/tights to look like. Your first bout will be a terrifying, adrenaline-filled experience, and one you will never forget.

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Being a Derby Dame is fulfilling on so many levels — you grow strong and confident, you gain friends, you aid the Charlottesville community. If you have a free Sunday evening this month, you owe it yourself to try a free Fresh Meat practice. It could change your life.

Lamp and B

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