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Published on July 16th, 2011 | by Rettig to Rumble


Never Skate With Scissors, And Other Advice For Surviving Roller Derby

Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a series of advice letters to Fresh Meat from veteran derby skaters. In our inaugural letter, given the recent graduation season, veteran skater Rettig To Rumble delivers to you, the Fresh Meat, her commencement address.

Future roller derby skaters, if I had only one piece of advice to offer regarding your upcoming derby career, it would be this: Invest in a good bra. Regardless of the size of your chest or budget, do yourself this favor and indulge. Like a loyal friend, a good bra will support you when you need it most, it will lift you when you’re feeling down and it will help you stand firm in the face of your adversaries. Treat this bra with care. Never put it in the washing machine. Do not sleep in it. Some day when you look back on the photos of yourself skating, you’ll thank me.

As for the rest of it, advice for the world of derby, I only have a random selection of miscellaneous pieces of guidance that I have been able to cobble together over the thousands upon thousands of laps I have skated. Some of these “pearls of wisdom” were learned the hard way, some were given to me by others (whether I wanted them or not) and some I admittedly stole from those much wiser than myself. But my young derby sisters, what is mine is yours. Like a heaping pile of discarded garments at a clothing swap, feel free to take the sparkly ones that catch your eye and throw back those that don’t quite fit.

Without further ado and in no particular order:

Enjoy this experience. It will be over far sooner than you can imagine. Hold fast to the friends you make. Even though you can’t conceive of it now, they will be there for you once you no longer compete. One day in the not-so-distant future you will sit with them and absentmindedly twitch your feet as if you are skating as you recount the lovingly embellished “remember the time when…” stories.

Make an effort to get to know your teammates. They will become like family for this brief period of your life. Like family, regardless of your differences, they will have your back and you will have theirs.

Do not judge yourself based on the ability of others; it’s not fair to anyone. Your talents are unique and every bit as important to this sport as everyone else’s.

Push yourself. The amount you are able to achieve will shock and amaze you.

Don’t limit yourself. If you need to throw up, do it. Then get back on the track and finish your laps.

Help out the new girls. You do not need to act superior to them—they already idolize you.

Get low.

Accept compliments. But don’t let them swell your head. Insults will come your way. They will probably bother you for a little while. That’s normal. Do not brood over them longer than is necessary. Throw them out with your old stinking wrist guards. Never pick either of them back out of the garbage.

Balance is key on and off of skates. Be a little wild sometimes, but remember, whether you like it or not, you are a role model. Be a little responsible sometimes, but never act your age.

Listen to your coach. The good ones know much more than you do.

Talk less, skate more.

Read the rules. You may not agree with them but knowing what they are and what they mean will give you a natural advantage over those who haven’t.

Come to practice severely hung over one time. That will be enough to teach you never to do it again.

Remember about 20 sentences ago when I said to “get low?” Well, you probably aren’t skating low enough yet. Get lower.

At some point, you’re going to fuck up both on and off the track. When you do: apologize. Mean it. Make every effort not to do it again. Forgive yourself and others will forgive you too.

Volunteer to coach a junior derby league at least once. The experience will change you as a person and it will make you a better skater.

When your body is so tired that you feel like you can’t take another step, skate two more laps before you quit.

Be respectful of the Refs. They are human beings. Bad calls will happen. You will get pissed off. Assume the best of intentions. Forgive and move on.

You can never thank a volunteer too much. Risk sounding ridiculously repetitive by telling them how much you appreciate them every time you see them.

Call your mother. She is your biggest fan. She takes pride in your achievements in a way that you will probably never fully comprehend. A ten minute phone conversation every now and again won’t kill you and it will make her more happy than you can imagine.

When you’re giving high fives after the bout, take the time to bend down to gently slap the hand of a child who has been cheering you on. It will mean the world to them to connect with a real live roller girl and they will likely remember the experience well into their adult lives.

Keep an eye out for the biggest, meanest, most skilled, scary bitches out there. Immediately recruit them onto your team. You do not want to play against these women. Trust me.

Do not be overconfident—anything can happen on bout day. Never doubt your abilities; you are stronger than you think.

Never check your skates on a flight. Carry on only.

Do something nice for an injured skater. At some point this will be you and you will appreciate the favor returned way more than you can know while you’re healthy.

Don’t blame yourself. Don’t blame others. Blame doesn’t solve anything and it won’t change the outcome of a bout.

Buy a photographer a drink. Although you likely don’t realize it now, they are giving you a gift that you will cherish long into old age. They will allow you to see yourself in a way that is not possible on your own—through somebody else’s eyes. Their work will show you that you are slimmer than you think and that you are more beautiful than you give yourself credit for. If you don’t see this right away, wait ten years, then look at the photos again. Call me if I’m wrong. I don’t expect to hear from you.

When you ask someone for advice, actually listen to their response. When you are asked for advice, be kind, start with a compliment, and tell the truth.

Wow, you’re doing great at “getting low”. Now relax your shoulders.

You may get divorced, you may suffer a break up, and you may fall in love. Do not let any of these things take you away from skating. Only quit when you’re ready and only on your own terms.

Be your own cheerleader. Do this quietly inside your head. Encourage yourself. Do not berate yourself. Be a cheerleader for your teammates. Do this out loud and frequently. Others may not have the inner positivity necessary to embolden themselves and they will thrive on your encouragement.

No matter how hard you try, not everyone is going to like you. Accept this now and your skating experience will be much easier. Show me how to do this.

Never leave your skates in your car. It will be very difficult to forgive yourself if they are stolen. It’s not worth the risk.

You can come back from injury. It will not be easy. Have patience.

Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Always shake your opponent’s hand. Even the total bitches. Do this sincerely.

After each bout, thank the fans. It will be just as rewarding an experience to you as it is to them.

Well, that’s it. That’s all I’ve got. Whether this haphazard collection is worth the server space it’s stored on, I honestly can’t say. But the advice about the bra, I’m telling you, that’s worth its weight in gold. Still don’t believe me on that one? Go back and look at those pictures again.

Photo: Joe Schwartz

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