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Published on July 25th, 2011 | by Rettig to Rumble


There’s No Crying in Roller Derby?

I was standing in the middle of the derby track frozen with fear. A tiny little sliver of an eight-year-old girl clad from head to toe in blinding pink-ruffled cuteness lay on the sport court ten feet away from me. She was crying. I had seen her fall, but it didn’t look bad. I surveyed her from my safe distance. Her derby pads looked like inner tubes around her toothpick-sized elbows and knees; the giant white-water-rafting kind of inner tubes. I thought I might need to climb aboard those inner tubes to save myself from drowning as the rising river of her tears swelled my way.

“Do something Rettig!” I demanded of myself. Up to this point, my experience with children had been limited to proudly displaying my superior bodily function noise-making skills. Pressing my lips into the crook of my elbow and ripping out a mockery of a colossal wet fart never failed to crack up the little boys and slingshot me squarely into the “cool adult” category among them. But I had a feeling my best natural talent would not go over so well with the pink and pretty of this sobbing little fallen angel.

Then, it popped into my head—the phrase I’d heard repeated hundreds or more times over the years “There’s no crying in roller derby!” I almost did it. I almost hollered it out. But at the last second, I clamped my mouth shut imprisoning my tongue behind the jail cell doors of my teeth. I’m so glad I did, because in an instant, I had a shocking realization. That statement, that “I’m such a tough roller derby girl that I don’t cry” declaration is a lie. And all at once the memories of my own derby tears came to me in a flash (flood).

I cried tears of joy at the weddings of two of my most dear derby teammates and friends. I cried tears of despair when I realized I could not attend the far-off wedding of another of my closest derby teammates. I then cried again when I saw how beautiful and happy she was in the photos.

I cried (secretly at night under the covers) at the pain in my throbbing knee where my mangled PCL poked and pulled on seemingly every raw nerve in my body. I cried more than once when the unimaginable heaviness of derby drama crushed down upon me from every conceivable angle. I cried when a former derby teammate and friend made the choice to end our friendship.

I cried when my teammate told me she was pregnant. And I cried again a few years later when her sisters told me the same thing. I also cried when all of their babies were born.

I cried when the team I captained won an intraleague championship. I cried when a girl so new to derby (and so frightened of it that she was almost literally green), stumbled up to me and stammered “You’re my derby idol.”

I cried when a beloved derby friend, skater, and announcer described to me in the most raw and shockingly uncensored way how she was savagely attacked and beaten by a group of animalistic thugs.

I cried when I laughed so hard with my teammates that I could no longer make noise or even breathe and all I could muster were the hot tears that streamed down my cheeks as we all rolled on the floor gasping for breath.

I cried when I watched a team of my very best derby friends win the WFTDA Championship. I cried when my team went all the way to the WFTDA Championship game. Twice. I cried when my team lost the WFTDA Championship. Twice. I cried when I watched my teammate win WFTDA MVP. I cried when I tried to thank my coach for all the opportunities I had been given.

Like clockwork, every time my plane pulls away from the terminal after Nationals, I cry a little as I reflect back on the experience I have just shared with my derby family from around the country and the sad knowledge that it will likely be another year before we get to do it all over again.

Some of the most joyful, most sad, most frustrating, most fulfilling, and most moving moments of my life are stemmed in roller derby. While I may have casually explained away the tiny droplets of water that escaped from my clenched tear ducts as the ever-present Seattle rain on my face, flecks of volcanic ash in my eyes, a rogue eyelash declaring war on my cornea, uncontrollable raging allergies, or an unfortunate reaction to those chopped onions on some hot dog I was eagerly shoving into my face, the truth is, I was probably crying. And it was probably because of roller derby.

Snapping out of my misty haze, I sucked in a deep breath and began to skate towards the wet-faced heap of a cutie pie Tootsie Roller crumpled up on the derby track. But before I could reach her, something wonderful happened. Still crying, she rose up on her own, found the tiniest space of skin on her forearm between those hulking pads on which to wipe her nose, and quickly skated off (pink ruffles and all) sniffling, ready to get back at it again.

That little girl owned her tears. They made her tough. They helped her continue on. She showed me that, yes, there is crying in roller derby. And this little girl proved that crying doesn’t make you any less of a bad ass.

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