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Published on May 3rd, 2013 | by Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang

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Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang

What Roller Derby Means to Me

Three years ago today, I stepped onto a roller skating rink with about 30 other women and started learning how to play roller derby. I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t even know how to stop myself on skates, let alone hit someone. I was wearing $40 skates and a set of pads that were so thin and crappy, they might as well have been Ace bandages. I wore a bike helmet. I didn’t know what I was doing on that rink, and I certainly had no idea I would still be playing 3 years later. I didn’t know that derby would become one of the most significant, awesome things I’ve ever done with my life. I definitely never would have guessed that I would actually get kind of good at this sport. And while the journey getting here has been full of ups and downs and highs and lows and everything in between, I can’t even a little bit imagine my life without this sport and this community.

Actually, I take that back. Sure, I can imagine it. Without it, I would be less stressed out. I would have a cleaner house. I would have time for relaxing and reading and yard work and vacations. I would have A LOT more money. I would get more sleep. I would have a lot less bruises, and there might actually be days where some part of my body didn’t hurt. I would probably have a lot less drama.

I would also laugh a lot less. I wouldn’t have the incredible support network that I do. I wouldn’t have the amazing legs that I’ve worked so hard for. I wouldn’t have the amazing stories that I have. I wouldn’t have ever gotten to meet the people I call my best friends. I wouldn’t have a reason to travel as much as I do. I wouldn’t have the level of personal triumphs that I do on a weekly basis, and I definitely wouldn’t be as happy. I would probably have a lot less drama, and that bores me just thinking about it.

But after 3 years, you start to wonder when your derby career will come to an end. It’s inevitable, and it’s something every derby girl dreads to some extent. It’s also something that’s become very real to me recently as I’ve watched a few of my original teammates hang up their skates voluntarily. I can’t help but wonder when it will happen for me. Will my body decide I’m done? Will life throw me a curve ball that no longer allows me to live this life? Will I just get burnt out and decide it’s over?

Fortunately, I decided a long time ago that I’m not quitting anytime soon. Not as long as I can help it. Some days are more challenging than others, and derby is certainly sometimes a thankless job. But it’s worth all of it at the end of the day. Some days, I do want to quit. It’s extremely difficult to balance being a derby girl with having a real life, and I can’t even count the number of times I have had explain why I spend so much time and energy on a “hobby”. I’ve endured countless people making sly comments about how someday I’ll grow up and quit playing. But they just don’t get it, and they probably never will. They aren’t the people reading this blog. But in case they are:

Why DO I spend so much time and energy on this sport? Let me tell you.

1. It challenges me.

Since April 10, 2010, I have been striving to be the best derby girl I can be. I’ll never be the fastest girl on the track, and I’ll never be a jammer. I know this. But I have strengths that I bring to my team, and there are always things that I can improve upon. That kind of physical challenge keeps life exciting, and it’s something that most adults don’t get to have in their lives after high school or college sports end. I feel pretty lucky to get that on a daily basis.

2. I’m a small part of a big movement.

No, really. In case you don’t know, derby is the fastest growing sport in the world. In 3 years, it has changed immensely. The shift from tutus and fishnets to athletic pants and uniforms has been the biggest change, and it’s something I can’t thank the derby world enough for. Aside from this, there is a shift toward making this sport something that is respected at all levels. We are shifting away from derby names, and away from the culture of bad attitudes and face paint. We are athletes. We compete at a national and international level. And we are serious. Ten years ago, no one could have seen derby being where it is today. And that makes me giddy like a school girl about what the next ten years are going to look like for this sport.

3. Christmas morning.

You know that feeling you had as a kid on Christmas Eve, knowing the next day you were going to get a lot of presents and get to see everyone you loved, and have a generally amazing day? I get to have this feeling about once a month, and sometimes more than that. The night before a bout and the whole day of and day after a bout are better than Christmas as a kid. I don’t know any adults that get to have that feeling after about age 12. It’s pretty awesome that I do.

4. It makes me crazy and keeps me sane.

Derby is drama. There are 60 plus women competing with each other while simultaneously trying to create a well-organized, sustainable league. Feelings get hurt. People feel underappreciated. People get passed up in try outs and people don’t make rosters. There are a lot of feelings. I love that, but at the same time, it makes me nuts.

That said, derby has this incredible ability to keep me grounded. It is my constant. In a world filled with deadlines and annoyances and the everyday awfulness of life in general, derby is always there as my outlet. Sometimes it brings its own annoyances, but at the end of the day, I know that three times a week, I get to go sweat out my stress and hit people with my body. There is no amount of therapy that can compare to that feeling.

5. I’m someone’s hero.

I met a little girl yesterday who was about 8 years old. She had just finished her swim lessons at the Y, and was sitting with her mom on the bench outside our rink. As I skated over to my gear bag, she looked at me with sheer awe on her face. I said hi, and asked if she was going to stay and watch our scrimmage. Her face lit up, and she started asking me questions about what we were doing. Her mom let me know that they had never watched before, and that her daughter had been asking to watch us for weeks. I probably only spent about 4 minutes talking to this little girl and her mom, but when I skated away, I saw her look excitedly at her mother like the best thing of her life had just happened to her. All that because I was on skates, and because I said hi to her. They stayed for the first half of our scrimmage.

Being that kind of a role model to young girls, and even to adult women is something I can’t put into words. Knowing that some people don’t understand derby wears on me sometimes, but then I get to experience things like I did yesterday, and it makes it all worth it. I am someone’s hero. I work hard every week to be an athlete, and I’ve learned there is a responsibility that comes with being a female athlete. I am a role model. I am a hero. I am someone that little girls look up to, and that, to me, is the best gift that has come with the work I’ve done over the past three years.

Someday, my derby career will come to a close. Someday, I will look back at these years and wonder at how I lived this life. Someday, I will be able to tell my grandchildren that I was a pioneer of a sport that is played around the world. Someday I will have more free time. I’ll have more money. I’ll have less stress. But for now, I’m going to continue being challenged. I’m going to continue being a small part of a big movement. I’m going to continue experiencing Christmas morning regularly. I’m going to continue being part of something that makes me crazy, and keeps me sane. And I’m going to continue being someone’s hero.

Someday will come eventually. But I hope that’s not for a long, long time.

Republished with permission. For more of Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang’s work, check out her blog.

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