Up Close And Personal Champion Ruby, Photo: Matt Walker

Published on August 25th, 2013 | by Guest Contributor


Champion Ruby, Photo: Matt Walker

Hurt So Good

By Clementine Ford aka Champion Ruby

Surveying the wreckage of my body this morning, I make a mental catalogue of my latest afflictions.

Calves tight from not stretching before sleep. Twinges in my shoulders from what I suspect might be a double case of bursitis, an inflammatory fluid condition that may also account for the sensitivity I’ve felt in my thumb joint for the past few months. A half crescent bruise beginning to emerge on my left buttock, a Polaroid slowly developing underneath a damaged derriere. I limp towards the bathroom and wait for the hot water to make its way up to our second floor apartment from the downstairs pipes.

I feel amazing.

My various maladies don’t come from anything sinister.

Three years ago, I made the impromptu decision to start playing roller derby and spent two years training with Adelaide Roller Derby (ADRD).

After moving to Melbourne last year, I was welcomed into the Victorian Roller Derby League (VRDL). Now, thrice weekly I’m lucky enough to skate with some of the most accomplished and competitive players in the country (the VRDL All Stars recently competed at the ‘Big O’ tournament in Oregon and performed so well they significantly increased their world, cementing their place in top 40.

Played counterclockwise on quad roller skates around an oval track, the sport involves two teams of four ‘blockers’ each using a single ‘jammer’ to jostle for points. All while doing everything they can to stop each other from scoring. This is achieved by using hips, shoulders and everything in between to hit each other in legal ‘target zones’.

It’s often fast, frequently furious and very high impact. Despite what you may have heard about fishnet stockings and theatricalities, roller derby is a serious sport played by seriously dedicated athletes. Bruises, dicky knees, inflamed shoulders – they all come with the territory (along with helmet hair, mangled skate toes, mouth-guard breath and what is affectionately referred to as ‘pad stench’, the lingering odour left by protective gear that smells somewhere between a packet of cheesy Doritos and a 14-year-old boy’s bedroom).

But for me, the injuries and scars are borne proudly. It may sound like hyperbole to say that discovering roller derby changed my life, but I can find no other accurate way to describe the deep and abiding love that I have for this sport.

As someone who spent a goodly portion of her life worrying about everything that was wrong with her body, it was a revelation to find a place in which that body and what it could achieve was everything. In the liberating enclosure of the roller derby track, that aforementioned bruised derriere was suddenly transformed from something large and unwieldy into an obstacle that could be used against the opposing team.

My frame, once described unkindly as being ‘like a curvy brick shithouse’, no longer betrayed me with its heft but helped me. Words used so often to hurt women instead are used to praise. In roller derby, there’s no question that, when someone confides that you hit them with the weight of a freight train, they’re giving you a compliment of the highest order, while hearing that you’re too heavy to move can have you floating on a cloud for hours.

It has to be said that I’m an average player at best. Having never played sports as a child, I have a poor head for athletic strategy. But what I love most about roller derby is that it completely contradicts the assumptions I always held about how sports could fit with girls like me – girls who were either chubby or awkward or clumsy or all three, and who perhaps avoided sports altogether so that everyone else would know they were in on the joke that was their chubby, awkward, clumsy bodies.

I went from being traumatised by the irrational belief that my stocky thighs said more about me than my words ever could, to loving how shapely those same thighs looked in a pair of running shorts, set atop a pair of skates and slamming into another player.

Yes, derby has changed the way I see myself. And even better? I get to train with an amazingly diverse group of women, many of whom I might never cross paths with outside of this crazy, wonderful little world that we all inhabit together. And in our own way, all of us have been changed by it and thus forever bound because of it. That’s something I can raise a glass too, swollen shoulders and all.

This piece was reprinted with permission. It originally appeared on Daily Life.

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