I can’t tell you exactly what sparked my interest in roller derby or why I decided to start skating. Before I moved from Raleigh to Charlotte in August of 2011 to start graduate school, I had only been to one bout and had barely understood what was going on.
“So we just watch while they skate in a circle and try to hit each other?” I asked the friend sitting next to me on the bleachers.
“Not exactly, “ she smiled at my naiveté.
I’ve never been particularly athletic. I don’t even like sports. I don’t know anything about football or running or NASCAR or any of the other competitive, sweat-inducing activities that my friends and family get so excited about. To quote Bliss Cavendar’s friend Pash in the popular roller derby-themed movie Whip It, “I didn’t have a roller skating phase. I had a fat-kid-sits-inside-and-reads-a-book phase.”
But somewhere between Raleigh and Charlotte I became obsessed. I went to more bouts. I read every book on the subject I could get a hold of. I spent a lot of time at the local skating rink and in empty parking lots (picture me, a woman just shy of thirty, routinely being chased off by cops used to dealing with teenaged boys on skateboards). I fell down. A whole lot. My last act as a resident of Wake County was to purchase my own pair of used skates. My first act as a new Charlottean was to e-mail Tammy Faye Breaker and RSVP for an interest meeting with the Charlotte Roller Girls. I waited anxiously for the next new skater workshop and prayed that went they said “newbie” they meant it.
The new skater workshop, held over the course of several hours on a Saturday afternoon, was fantastic. There were a lot of women there, and it seemed to me that all ages (well, over eighteen, anyway), body types, and skill levels were represented. We were led through some warm-up exercises, told to gear up, and proceeded to get our butts kicked by the likes of Rosie Cheeks, Amy Fister, and calQh8r. I was pleased to find that the short period of time I’d had to learn how to skate and the hours I’d spent pulling myself up off the concrete of my university’s parking deck had paid off. I wasn’t good—make no mistake—but I felt like I could keep up reasonably well, especially for someone who was a roller derby newbie in every sense of the term. I got great advice from the Charlotte Roller Girls who had volunteered to run the workshop and made fast friends with my fellow newbies. At the end, Rosie Cheeks sat down with me and a few other neophyte roller girls and asked us why we wanted to get involved with CLTRG and what we thought we had both offer to the league and to gain.
“It’s a lot like have a part-time job,” she said seriously. “It’s not just coming to practice and skating. You’ve also got to work on a committee, sell tickets for bouts, and be involved in the volunteer work we do. It’s an amazing organization, but you can only get out of it what you put into it.”
I knew that this was something I wanted to be a part of. I went home sweaty, sore, and exhausted. But the excitement hadn’t faded. I anxiously awaited my first real practice the following Thursday evening.
There were moments during that first practice that left me unsure of whether or not I’d made the right decision. This was by far the hardest workout I’d ever had. Amy Fister was a merciless trainer. My lower back was killing me, I was dehydrated, and it had quickly become apparent that my inexpensive, used skates didn’t fit me correctly. Was I really going to do this? Did I have time for this? What if I got hurt? Would this get in the way of school and work? Don’t get my wrong: I was having an amazing time. But part of me was looking for an excuse to back out once I’d gotten a real taste of how challenging this would be. Fortunately, and thanks in no small part to encouragement from Tasty Murder, Hitsteria (then a fellow newbie), Rita Maneata, and Rosie Cheeks, I kept pushing. Yeah, I was sore, but I was also exhilarated. These girls were incredible. I hardly knew anything about roller derby, but I could see that there was something really special about the women who played it. I couldn’t put my finger on it—I still can’t. They come from all walks of life. They’ve got different backgrounds, different body types, different goals in life. Sure, some upheld the popular image of roller girls promoted in books and movies: independent, tough, tattooed. But they all managed to be independent and tough (if not tattooed) in different ways. Some were mothers, college and graduate students, professionals, wives, artists. . . the list goes on.
So here I am! I’m still a newbie (though one in much better shape), but I’ve improved tremendously and learned a ton about both skating and derby. I’ve also made some really fantastic friends and been lucky enough to spend time with some of the most dedicated, creative, and athletic women I’ve ever met. Practices, bouts, and other CLTRG events are the highlights of my life in Charlotte. I’m still saving up for a new pair of skates that actually fit me and dreaming of the day when I earn a derby name and a uniform. When I get there, I’ll let you know!