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Published on January 22nd, 2012 | by Pelvis Costello


New Year’s Reflections from a Derby Widow

Excerpted from a larger post reflecting on 2011 and derby widowhood.

Time does not merely pass quickly in roller derby; it passes with the velocity of a televised high-speed chase. The goals and ideas that come to your partner’s mind (or yours) at the beginning of the season won’t necessarily stay the same on the route to Championships. Life, death, and every detail that brings the former closer to the latter moves with such alacrity that you quickly lose sight of perspective. In the constant barrage of roller derby, few have the self-knowledge to stop, analyze carefully, and move on.

With the New Year upon us, I figured it’s a good time to tell skaters and their spouses alike how to live a better derby life than you did last year.

Friendships: Keep the Ones that Matter.

People talk a lot about sacrifice to reach their derby goals. Human sacrifice, however, is not to be taken lightly. Your friends from outside of derby miss you. Make sure to give them a call. And your “friends” in derby…well, they’re very different than the friends you made while playing derby. Over the course of several seasons I’ve watched friendships, love affairs, and drinking partnerships flare up and crash and burn with such speed and force, one can hardly believe that these train-wrecks often occurred within sixty days.

You’ve likely seen it yourself. The season starts and two skaters are the best of friends. Two months later, they barely talk, two-and-a-half months later, they only talk horrible crap about each other. Was there an incident people can point back to that kicked off this blood war? Nope. It just happened. As someone who does way more in derby than I was convinced I would, I’ve also been told I’ve lost friends over actions, thoughts, and opinions that were attributed to me that I never had. That’s life. But that underscored a real truth about relationships in this sport. Derby friends aren’t always true friends.

Don’t believe me? How many retired skaters do you know that complain that their former best buds, derby wives, or teammates never call? If you answered none, you’re the person who isn’t calling.

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Dread equates this to the concept of “temporary hit points.” Nerdy, yes, but I’ll explain.

In Dungeons and Dragons, there are abilities in combat that give you hit points beyond your maximum health. If you get hurt, those points are taken off first before you’re in any danger of dying. But when the fight is over, those points, if you have any of them left, just go away. They’re not really yours. You’re left with what you brought into the fight. Shit, that makes DnD combat seem more isolating and lonely than ever thought possible. …yikes. I think Dread and I also think of derby in DnD terms because the WFTDA rulebook has the same amount of complicated rules.


My advice to you is that you take the time to the people that matter to you that you care. Face time, as my father says, is what matters most. Conversely, team activities are fine, but if you find yourself shopping or drinking with a teammate that realistically is nothing like you in a way that would otherwise ban her from your home, ask yourself if she’d really be there for you if something went wrong. If not, she’s a shitty teammate, and not your friend. Go to the karaoke bar with someone who loves you. You can be civil without being forced to make out.

Be Patient with Each Other

Everyone has their reasons to be in this sport. This isn’t a call to coaches to be more understanding, though I suppose it applies, too. This is about people. If the dude in the stands screams bloody murder every time his partner’s team receives a penalty, he’s just into the game. Until he starts threatening murder or peeing in your drink, let it go. He probably has a rescue dog at home and reads to the elderly… So what if what he reads to them are mean hand-crafted signs that put down your wife’s team?

Off the track, people are motivated by different things. I’ve often been pleasantly surprised to get to know people I had almost written off as wastes of carbon. I’ve also been vindicated by waiting just long enough to find out I was right, and that _____ is a total _____ and will one day die ____. Just take the time to understand and be prepared to change your mind. Absolutes, when it comes to humans, are seldom applicable.

Talk Less Shit

There are people I don’t like. There are people who disappoint me. If they need to know, I’ll tell them. If you don’t like someone, and it’s not worth your time to confront them, shut up. Otherwise, you run the risk of them finding out through the grapevine, because many of the friends you’re talking smack to are going to make sure it gets out. This goes to the first point: not everyone’s your friend. And with all that venom being spat around, it’s hard to see who’s improved, what person you’ve hated for years turned out would give you a kidney, and if you just might be that same bitch you’re describing.

In situations where you think shit-talking is imminent, I whole-heartedly endorse to all of you a trick I’ve employed:

Shit-talker: ______, what’s her story?
Me: She’s my friend.
Shit-talker: Oh.

That tends to end it. If the person’s really about to talk smack, his/her mouth shuts and she stares blankly for a half a second. Making people feel bad by nipping their behavior in the bud is an almost orgasmic feeling. Do it. Also, remember that anyone gossiping to you may likely gossip about you. If you like to gossip, can deal with the fact people won’t trust you, and don’t mind sowing chaos for the sake of chaos…well, ignore everything I said and All Hail Eris!

“Damn it, this is nice.”

Live for these moments. Too many times will you be faced with situations that will piss you off, leave you sad, or wondering why it is you put up with that skinny/fat/stupid/self-important ass. It’s natural. But if it were all that, our Facebook and Flickr streams would be filled with photos of impending violence and empty after parties. I’ve seen your pictures on the Internet, and you don’t look so upset. And that’s because those pictures are the living record of your good times. But a better way to do it is to just stand in that moment and remember, “This is great.” For widows, that can be the smart plays your partner pulled off or the overheard compliments about your lady/dude.

As a culture, we tend to focus on what we hated. What about what’s really good? Think about what went right and you’re bound to take the sting out of an ultimately temporary situation.

Set an Example

There was a time when every fresh meat class set a league on fire with excitement. Skaters acted like old dogs finding new life when a new litter of puppies come into the room. Like New Year’s, the new crop of people is an artificial time-stamp signaling new beginnings. For the love of Calliope, bring yourself to a point where you can throw down your blood oaths and just start fresh with as many people as possible.

New kids don’t know your drama. They don’t need to be part of your personal Hatfield-McCoy feud. You weren’t man/woman enough to go to jail to settle it, so it should be over anyway. Reach out to the widow from the opposing team before game time, buy a beer for that old friend at the after party, and maybe don’t send a box full of spiders to your “enemy.”

With injuries and emotional fatigue, each season is potentially the last for everyone. Treat it as such. Because when you’re gone, you’ll have a whole other trial to weather.

No one’s really exempt from this advice, especially me. As derby continues to grow, don’t forget to grow up.

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Pelvis Costello

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