Derby Lessons are Life Lessons Too

I recently came across a quote from Peggy Fleming, a 1968 Olympic Champion in Ladies’ figure skating. “My sport taught me what I could do with my talents whether in the rink or in the rest of my life.” As a female skater this resonated with me. Sure, I’m no figure skater and I will probably never make it to the Olympics, but I do skate in a physically and mentally demanding sport. I play roller derby and I think I’m a better person because of it.

I was recently drafted to a home team in Milwaukee’s roller derby league the Brewcity Bruisers and I wanted to share a few of the lessons I’ve learned so far…

Be resilient!

How many times in life do we have to work for something (I mean really work for something?) Roller derby has taught me how to want, how to work hard, and how to “put up a good fight.”

One of the first things the Brewcity Bruisers teach you at their boot camps is how to fall safely. They teach you how to fall and how to get back up again. It is the most important lesson you will learn. It is a lesson that I am so glad I learned. If you play roller derby, you will fall, you may get hurt. It’s just like life really. You may hurt one day but you must always get up, get up as fast as you can and keep going. Quitting may be easy, but staying to fight takes courage and determination.

You have to want it because, baby, you’re gonna have to work for it!

I was not very athletic when I started so I struggle sometimes, but when I think about some of the people I’ve skated with it gives me strength. Stick around long enough and you will meet skaters who (like me) were not natural athletes who had to learn how to work hard to get where they are. There are always stories of skaters who couldn’t skate at all when they started, who didn’t get drafted right away, or who got pregnant or had some life event keep them from skating, but they all kept coming back. Change doesn’t happen overnight. At some point you have to stop making excuses and just do.

Help others!

We’ve all heard the old saying, “There is no I in team.” I was the girl that liked to joke and say “but there is a ‘me’ in team!” I no longer roll my eyes at this stuff; I love it! It still sounds cliché and I have a hard time saying these things with a straight face, but it’s all true.
Lately, I’ve been hearing, “your team is only as strong as your weakest player.” If you want to win it’s not just about being better yourself, you also need to help your teammates. Healthy competition means not hoping someone else fails. I’ve seen good players fail because they have bad attitudes. I’ve also been helped along the way by so many kind and wonderful ladies. All I want to do now is be encouraging and helpful. We’ve all struggled with something and sometimes all it takes is one person to break it down in such a way or tell you something they did to help them learn a knew skill. Win or lose you establish connections and friendships. That is what roller derby is about.

Don’t compare yourself to others!

It’s easy to get down on yourself for not being able to juke as well, or stop as fast as another player. As women we often compare ourselves to unrealistic expectations. Yes, I can’t juke as well as some, ok most, of the rostered skaters but then I remind myself that they have been doing this longer than I have and I can‘t get too upset with myself for not being as good as they are… yet.

On the flip side; it’s also just as easy to start getting a big head and no one ever likes that girl! Or you may get upset about not passing a step to go to the next level and/or slighted if you think you’re better than someone who did, but maybe we are never really the best judge of ourselves… I may think I look fantastic, but then show me a videotape of myself and I think, “YIKES! That’s my derby stance?!” And that is why we should never compare ourselves to others. We all have good days and bad days and as long as we can focus on what we can do and we focus on our achievements we will always have success in our hearts. I’ve had setbacks in my progress and I’ve had to remind myself, “When I started I couldn’t even skate 25 laps around the track in 5 minutes and now I can skate more laps than is required for minimum skills.”

We have a sign in our practice space that says something about be better today than you were yesterday. Focus on yourself and your own improvement. Don’t worry about others. There will always be someone better and someone worse, don’t be the girl that keeps tabs.

-Lena Del Gato

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