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Published on October 5th, 2011 | by Scar

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One Skater’s Journey: Living “Whip It”

A quirky young girl endures coming of age and navigating tumultuous relationships with her parents, boyfriend, and best friend, all the while playing roller derby with her newly found diverse surrogate family.

Is all of this just Hollywood fluff? Written to do nothing more than entertain audiences and try to evoke emotions? Would any of this ever happen in the “real world”?

I’ve heard many a player say that they always felt the dramatic, angst-y, then uplifting story line of “Whip It” was a bit unrealistic.

But is it? I can attest the answer is no, or at least not as outlandish as you think it is.

So the following is how I came to live a story not unlike that of Bliss Cavendar’s…except maybe less skinny dipping (none), alcohol (I swear), and food fights (Does that really ever happen in real life?)

Before joining roller derby I had the middle class happy childhood. My mom had always dreamed I’d be a “singer, dancer, and actor,” and I went through the typical rites of passage for a “tomboy”- rejecting pink dresses, and constantly fighting with my mother over my hair color. Sound familiar? (However if I could have lunch with anyone it would be Eleanor Roosevelt.) This stage of life was followed by very non-eventful “odd/outsider girl” adolescent years. I won’t spend time recounting the day by day, partially because it’s exactly what you’re thinking, and partially because I think it’s something a good lot of us went through.

The story of a teenager feeling different is a tired one, and I bet for the most part we all feel like it applies to us. Perhaps that’s part of its success in movies (and Whip It)? Somehow no matter their background everyone can (or feels they can) relate to that period of pubescent awkwardness. I don’t need to tell you what happened–you probably (to some extent) lived it.

It’s funny how even though I grew up in Long Beach, California–a not so small city in the storied Los Angeles County and home to the rich and famous and the destitute alike, and not a quaint little town like the fictional Bodeen, Texas–I still felt a strong connection to the feeling of unbridled discovery when Bliss picks up a roller derby flier, and the limitless freedom she experienced seeing a bout for the first time. Ellen Page’s masterful facial expressions say so much of what (in my opinion) many of us were thinking when we first were exposed to roller derby.

I’m sorry, I digress.

Ellen Page has that effect on me.

Anyway, after having my hallelujah moment while learning that there was a sport where confident, strong women put on skates and hit each other, I went to see my first bout. I found the local roller derby league and saw them play at Long Beach’s impressive “spruce goose” dome. Much like the movie, I did in fact go up afterwards to inform them they were my new heroes–and took pictures that I still hang in my room to this day.

Upon telling my parents that I wanted to play roller derby I was greeted with the “whatever, it’s your choice” response. Unfortunately this was not the final answer and as I got closer to making that a reality and educated them on the subject the reactions developed into “wait… roller…what?” and “they still have that?” then the disappointing “absolutely not.” Determined, I enlisted my friend and together we found OC Rollergirls, who had a junior league.

Unlike my Whip it predecessor I did not have the heart (or the resources) to keep it away from my wary parents, so my mother reluctantly took me to my first practice. She was far from won over, but when I got in the car and said “that is the most fun I’ve ever had in my life” she relented, and I was allowed to join.

Awesome-ly enough the only people who seemed to support me from square one were my grandmas. My maternal grandmother had taken my mom to see roller derby when she was just a baby, and she happily bought me my first derby skates. She was at my first bout, worried sick about me every time I fell, but smiling ear to ear nonetheless. That same day my paternal grandma left me the endearing voicemail stating “We may not understand it, but if your grandpa and I lived there, we would go see you play today.”

This joy was short lived.

After a few practices it became clear to everyone around me that roller derby was taking over my life. Whether this was a positive, negative, or neutral thing I suppose was–and is–up for some debate, but the fact of it is undeniable. I devoted all my time to learning how to skate I was as hopeless as our Whip It protagonist, but [I like to think] also as hell bent on learning, wearing my Blood and Thunder shirt daily and re-reading my magazine until pages began falling out.

My Dad was quite dissatisfied with the amount of time I devoted to my new obsession. In his eyes roller derby promoted violence, aggression, and was anti-male. It consumed me and took me away from school, softball, friends, and most importantly–family. He shuddered at all the “unnecessary risk” that was involved and the utter disregard for my health that participation in such a reckless activity showed. It seemed such a high cost for what he was sure was another of my passing fads, just another fleeting infatuation I am so prone to. For all I know he may still hold these views today.

But allow me to put all that in context: I am a daddy’s girl. No doubt. My Dad and I have been buddies, best friends, an inseparable team, since my birth. He was a stay-at-home dad and whether it be nurture or nature (our genetics seem to be strikingly similar) our bond was, and is, incomparable.

That being said, when you have such strong ties and allegiances feelings tend to be on the dramatic side. I think more than anything he was hurt that I didn’t seem to care how he felt on the matter, and I was hurt that he didn’t approve of my newfound identity. All the tension, and several mini wars between my parents and I over the “Roller Derby Issue” culminated with a blow-up fight, a time I really don’t care to rehash the details of but one that I regret happening to this day. As a result I no longer lived in my father’s house, and (being under the age to sign forms for myself) was not allowed to play anymore because my parental consent was withdrawn.

I sought the help of my Roller Derby family (I really do have a newfound family in Roller Derby, including a mom(s), a step mom [my mom’s derby wife of course], future ex-stepdad, godmothers, a few aunts, and a variety of other “relatives” that one can’t quite place on the tree. After all, isn’t there always that one at the family reunion no one’s sure how they are kin to?) I ran into the arms of this new community, and was embraced wholeheartedly. I had friends who loved me for who I was, had my “freedom” and “independence” that I thought I so desperately wanted, and even got into a relationship that I soon learned to be no more than smoke and mirrors. (A phrase I’ve found to be almost synonymous with “young love.”) Bliss, I feel ya.

I wanted and needed for nothing… except reconciliation with my parents who I love dearly, and to get back on the track. Finally one day, with my pride halfway swallowed, I called my dad. I wasn’t quite ready to completely eat crow yet but the conversation was tear stricken and repentant, much like the *sigh* heart-wrenching one in the movie.

The dialogue was the first of many, and the beginning step in a process of rebuilding the shambles our relationship had become. Was there more to work through than Roller Derby? You betchya, and I’m in no way blaming Roller Derby for this darker time in my life. But like a good inspirational PSA, it gets better, and like a good Beatles song, it’s getting better all the time. I’ve learned Roller Derby doesn’t define me (it’s a major major part of my life, but not all of it), and he’s learned it doesn’t have to define our relationship.

The other day my dad (it’s great to get to call him that after months of forcing myself to call him by his first name) showed me a picture of a little girl with four-wheeled contraptions strapped on her shoes. “Don’t forget,” he told me, “who it was that bought you your first pair of skates.”

dad and me.jpg

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