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Published on September 22nd, 2012 | by Chewblocka


You Get What You Need

Roller derby finds me when I am twenty four, but I am waiting for it. Freshly married, a little listless, and employed at an uninspiring job, I need that spark—the answer to the question: What’s next? Because of habitual shyness, it is a challenge for me to make it to the rink for my first open skate–even though the league founder attended my wedding not a month before. However the promise of a focused reason to put skates back on and the possibility of finding a new sport/hobby/something/anything proves enough of carrot for me to push forward. I make it out to one of the very first open skates, and as soon as I get a whiff of the waxy smell of the rink, I know I am onto something. By the time all eight wheels of the brownie rentals hit wood, I am a goner. Roller derby and the early foundational days of the Arch Rival Roller Girls quickly become my what’s next.

But, life throws knuckleballs.

Before ARRG even starts full scrimmages, my husband gets a job in Columbus, Ohio, and I find myself packing up my skates and pads as well as nearly twenty-five years of life in St. Louis. Transfer. That word carries its own baggage these days, but in 2006 for me all it means is harassing players on MySpace begging the league to keep a spot for me even though their recruitment doors are closing. Without roller derby and the Ohio Roller Girls, the transition of moving to a new place looks impossible; if they don’t take me, I expect I will dawdle in bookstores and libraries, falling deeper into other people’s histories instead of creating my own. Instead as soon as my feet are planted on Ohio soil, I have an appointment at the rink three nights a week. Soon I also have a team: the Take-Outs. And, soon after, another: the Ohio Roller Girls travel team. I throw myself into the league, enjoying its successes and suffering its dramas like a good family member. However, I continue to think of the Arch Rivals as “unfinished business.” As I watch the league take shape from hundreds of miles away, I can’t help but wonder where my place in the league would be had I been able to stick it out in STL. I annoy my current teammates by constantly craning my neck back west to my city and the league I left behind. But still, I make friends. I inspire epic interpretive dances to Styx and Journey and Queen. I eat tons of Jeni’s ice cream. Most of all I play good roller derby with team that is modestly overcoming its previous record.

And then life throws another knuckler, this time with a mad corkscrew.

The economy tanks, and my husband’s job in retail real estate evaporates like so many others. We hit the trail home to St. Louis. I think I will be forced to take a break from derby as we both re-establish course, but living in a city where we are well-networked means employment quickly follows and I hit the ground rolling at Arch Rival practices within a month of moving back. But I soon find myself craning my neck to peer back at Columbus much as I did the St. Louis squad, extolling the virtues of Jeni’s ice cream and Pit Hut falafel and the color green. At derby tournaments and events, I spend more time with my old Ohio teammates playing catch-up than forging bonds with my St. Louis ones. Unlike Arch Rival, there is no mystery—I know where my place with Ohio is… if I were still there… and I long for the certainty of it. With each month I merge more and more into St. Louis derby, but I still take every opportunity to remind people that I skated for Ohio.

February of this year in Indianapolis, I tentatively skate warm-up laps before my first Midwest Megateam game. I am having a hard time overcoming my quiet, loner tendencies, and even though the Mega roster features both current Arch Rival teammates, a few more than familiar Ohio Roller Girls, and a host of other North Central skaters I have crashed into during games; first day of school nerves still plague me. I try to shake them off by getting my footing on the sport court. At turn three a small, but unnaturally buff bearded figure appears and toes the rope boundary to foist a supermarket bouquet of flowers into my hands. The beard is felt, the muscles poly-fill, and underneath the “strappy lad” disguise is my former Ohio Roller Girl teammate Hellion BOI. The absurdity of the gesture quashes any insecurities. On the track I play in a pack with Arch Rivals, and then in a pack with Ohio. Both feel natural, but I worry that the second still feels more so.

After being sidelined for our regular season match-up by a re-injured PCL, I place far too much emotional weight on our first Ohio game at play-offs. I want it to be epic; I’ve been telling myself the story of the game since I intuited the match-up after both team’s BrewHaHa results. My league versus my league. In some ways, it is: it’s a great game full of lead changes. It ends heartbreakingly with Arch Rival coming up ten points shy of advancing in the tournament. Once Ohio is not my competitor, I am not sure what do with myself when I encounter girls in green. I worry that my personal disappointments will hover like a wall between me and all of my friends. These fear abate quickly as I run into old teammates one after another, I easily hug them and wish them encouragement for the rest of the weekend. When I settle into the sidelines to watch them play the games I want to be playing, all the hardness of the loss melts and I become a genuine fan. I am impressed by and proud of their effort, and those feelings obliterate anything approaching bitterness. I’d say I’m now Ohio’s biggest fan, but they brought their own collection of superlative cheerleaders, a small mob of rowdy leprechauns chanting the familiar OH! RG! I sit just to the side of the uproar, occasionally lifting a sign for Spears or Ripyourstockings—my old ninja teammates. When the call and response fails to trip off my tongue, I know I belong fully to St. Louis once again for the first time since I moved.

Sunday after Windy City squeaks through to be North Central #1 for the billionth time ever, the Arch Rival Roller Girls, enjoy a team dinner sitting on top of one another in booths and eating french fries out of cardboard boxes. Later some of us ditch the afterparty to creep over into Canada to look at the Falls. I lead my teammates to the corner of the Horseshoe Falls, my favorite spot in the world. We bridge backwards to keep the stragglers in play, then all peer over the edge of the world and collectively ask ourselves: What’s next?

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