Things I Wish They Had Told Me Photo: Mel Koenig

Published on September 27th, 2013 | by Red Haute


Photo: Mel Koenig

Unexpected Lessons Learned in Roller Derby

We’ve pretty much all seen or heard the slogan “Roller Derby saved my soul.”  And we’ve read lots of articles on the things derby has taught someone.  Most of us, nodding along as we read.  This isn’t one of those stories.  This is about the unexpected things, positive & negative, I’ve learned or rediscovered because of derby.


1. Mama isn’t always right.

To say that I wasn’t athletically gifted when I was a kid is a HUGE understatement.  I tried to play a few team sports but was fairly inadequate.  Add in the fact that my mom was athletic and played very competitive softball and I had myself a recipe for believing I couldn’t do anything physical and shouldn’t even try.   And then I met a friend at RollerCon ’11 for a quick overnight visit.  It was literally seeing ALL of the shapes, sizes and ages of the people there that made me think I might, maybe, someday, perhaps be able to try.  And I have.   I may not get a skill or drill the first time, I may not be the fastest but I’m DOING it.  And couldn’t be happier to leave that childhood assertion behind me.

2. Mama isn’t always right.  Part 2.

To go along with the belief that I should stick to pursuits other than athletic ones, was the idea that I was pretty much a wimp.  Low pain tolerance.  A crybaby, whiner, whatever you want to call it.  I’m not saying that anyone came right out and used those words but, it was just known that I didn’t deal well with pain.  Yeah, some of that could be due to the fact that I screamed “Kiss me before I die!” for an entire medical facility to hear when being treated for a cut too small to stitch or the now amusing incident involving getting a shot at 16 and begging for it to be out already.  And I hadn’t even been stuck.  So I get that there could be some reason for this belief, not only on my family’s part, but on my own.  But 6 months into derby I broke my ankle.  In two places.  One bone was in four pieces.  I’ve got a lovely plate and an even dozen screws for a reminder.  The most amazing thing?  I didn’t cry.  Not once.  Not when it happened.  Not in the ER waiting.  Not when my knee pad was pulled off.  (I REFUSED to let them cut it off.  And promptly made a mental note to make sure my next set strapped on rather than pulled on.)  And not during the recovery.  For which I took maybe two of the pain pills they sent me home with.  And as soon as I was cleared to skate 3 months later, I was back on 8 wheels.  So take that for not being athletic.  And the photo of my ankle is one of my favorite self portraits.

broken ankle -- red haute

3. Some People Are Still In High School.

I started this great adventure 3 months before I turned 41.  I’d been out in the workforce for more years than I’d been in school.  I’d been married nearly 20 years and my boy was old enough that I no longer had any legal say or responsibility for him.  So it’d been a few years since I’d swum in the murk & muck that make up cliques and the in-crowd vs. the out-people and so on.  I came in believing all the good stuff.  The sisterhood and support and all the other stuff that IS part of derby.  But I got blindsided by some of the high school bullshit that comes from so many people, mostly women, involved in a volunteer organization.  All it took was for me to rub one or two people the wrong way and I was persona non grata.  But I’m happy to say that due to persistence and just the effect of time, that’s changing.  And since I’ve always believed in quality over quantity I’m ok with having just a few close friends/sisters/supporters/motivators.

4. Beat ‘Em at Their Own Game.

Some of the best advice I’ve gotten, came recently.  From a skater, and more importantly a person I respect and admire.  Pretend you don’t hear the haters.  Those Negative Nancys, the naysayers that are jealous of what you achieved.  Keep on keeping on and doing what you do.  And they’ll eventually shut up because they’re not getting the attention they want.  Pretty good advice on and off the track if you ask me.

5. Good Things Come to Those That Wait.

Yeah, it’s a cliché.  But it’s also true.  Now, a little more than 2 years later, I’m “eligible for placement” on a team. The shock & joy & speechlessness those 3 little words caused in me are indescribable.  Unless you’ve been on that long road too.  I’m so lucky to have found a friend on the long road to mastering the skills necessary to bout.  Literally & figuratively, we’ve kept each other going.  Not only through practices but on this whole journey to actually PLAY roller derby.  So don’t despair if you’re not on a team or bouting within the time frame you had in mind.  Mine was 1 year but a broken ankle sent that out the window.  Keep practicing.  Keep asking for feedback and implementing it.  Your hard work will pay off.

6. Remember What You Used to Do for Fun.

I admit it.  When I “get into” something I go all the way.  It’s just how I am.  I have very much immersed myself in derby.  And couldn’t be happier.  I’m also lucky enough that my significant other is pretty into it, too.  But I’ve made a point of continuing a once monthly gathering that I’d been doing for several years prior to joining derby.  I talk to the ladies that come over about derby but I also talk about other things.  It’s good to keep up with your non-derby friends to give you balance.  You need an escape hatch every once in a while and keeping the path clear to your hatch makes it easier to access and utilize.


So those are some of the things I’ve learned, or rediscovered, since tying my skates on the first time back in August of 2011.  I’m looking forward to the things I’ll find out when I’m on a team and when I bout.

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  • Taboomolly

    I have so much respect for you

  • Bizzle57

    You are an amazing lady. One of the few friends in life I will never give away, an honest and fun soul. You are my soul sister and I could not be prouder of you since that day at Rollercon 2011 that you came to see me and chose to join a derby league. Your journey will help so many others who have similar experiences.

    I love you Red Haute!!

    • Sarah Damage Butcher

      I’m 35 and started in January. I’m not even on a team yet, until I get 1 more lap…but stories like this make me not want to stop. I struggle with being so slow at making it when others have gotten there before me, but I’m doing this for me. Thanks for inspiring me.

      • Red Haute

        Damage – DONT STOP! DONT GIVE UP! you can do this. Celebrate & treasure the small victories. Sometimes they’re as hard to achieve as the larger ones when you’re on the long road. And no less awesome for being small. After achieving so much, I know you won’t let one little lap hold you back.

    • Red Haute

      I ♥ you!! And can’t thank you enough for introducing me to this craziness and being my biggest supporter.

  • Megan

    Thank you, I’m going to be turning 41 in December but due to an operation I will be unable to play for another year, but this has given me the hope to cling on to what I can have one day :)

    • Red Haute

      Megan – You can TOTALLY do this! In the mean time NSO, volunteer, participate. By learning as much as you can about the game & strategy you’ll put yourself in a good position once you get 8 wheels under you. I know I’m not likely to be the fastest skater on the track – not negative or quitter attitude, just fact of life – but I CAN be the smartest one. And that’s what’s going to help me play as long as possible.

      • Megan

        Thanks for the kind reply, the idea of being an NSO or volunteer is a really good one; it will also help me get to know the team better and as you said learn the game better so I can put learning the rules into actual action and visual representation.

        Once again good luck with all things derby :)

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  • Matt Keesler

    I’m a 45 year old “Fresh Meat” and am already addicted. I’ve got a long way to go, however, the team I’m skating with is terrific. Probably won’t get a men’s team up and running this time but it’s still a blast to go to practice. I went to my first (flat track) bout this weekend and was in awe. You veterans make it look like you were born to do derby; I hope one day I can skate that well! This was a well written and infomative article. Thanks for posting!

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