Up Close And Personal Photo: Hale Yeah

Published on October 18th, 2013 | by Em Dash


Photo: Hale Yeah

Ghost Bench

I’m coming to the end of my sixth full season of roller derby. This is always a bittersweet time of year. My body needs rest badly, and I feel like I haven’t seen my non-derby friends (the few of them who are still left!) in ages. I look back at what I’ve accomplished this season, and what I wish I had accomplished. I start thinking about holidays with the family, and how I’ll spend all my glorious free time in the off-season.

And I prepare to say goodbye to this year’s retirees. It happens every year. I shouldn’t be surprised. But every year, the late-season revelations of who is retiring, and (even worse!) who is planning to move away, catch me completely off-guard.

I understand why people retire. Nagging injuries, career prospects, relationship changes, the desire to have kids, and even the desire to reclaim your life for yourself. I get it. For the last few seasons, I’ve had that conversation pretty seriously with myself each year. But each year, it ultimately comes down to the fact that I still love playing roller derby, and I’m not (that) broken (yet). I want to keep doing it.

When any member of my league retires, I feel some sadness and regret—for games we won’t get to skate with or against each other in the future, knowing I’ll miss their personalities at practice or on my committees. When my teammates retire, it’s harder. My home team is very close, and after six years, it feels like family—more than a dozen sisters (and a couple brothers) who have seen me at my worst, helped me achieve my best, and love me no matter what. We’ve shared laughter and tears, sickness (and injuries) and health, sweat and snot and who knows what else. We’ve emailed each other pictures and stupid memes the week leading up to a bout, have our own playlists, and share hundreds of nicknames and inside jokes.

And over the past six years, I’ve lost a few derby soulmates into retirement. I’ve lost two derby wives to other cities, and I’ve lost almost every single skater who came in as a rookie with me. Of the eight rookies who were drafted onto my home team my first season, I’m the only one left. When Miss American Thighs, the last one remaining, retired last year, it was rough. When I hear about a derby soulmate leaving, it hits me like a gutpunch, like the first can opener I ever got from my team captain. I feel the breath driven out of me—shock and queasiness and embarrassing tears pricking at my eyes. Even years later, sometimes when I think about those skaters not being around, I still fight back the urge to cry.

This year, I got completely sideswiped. I’m losing three of the skaters who have loomed largest in my derby experience—all from my home team. (To say nothing of the skaters who are retiring from other teams in the league!)


To my most literary teammate: You are the skater most likely to call me out for being a dork, and one of the only skaters whose level of dorkiness approaches my own. Your sunny sarcasm has gotten me through derby drama, twelve-hour bout working shifts, loooooooong league meetings, and winning and losing championships. You are the only skater who has ever stalked Jeffrey Eugenides with me, and quite frankly, I can’t imagine anyone taking your place. Roller derby will be less fun and less funny without you.


To my prison bitch: I was hoping to get another season with you. From the beginning, I felt we had a special bond, and working to help you become the best skater you could be has been incredibly rewarding. Coaching you has made me a better skater, and watching your form and incredible hockey skills has made me a MUCH better skater. Your persistence through challenges—on and off the track—has been inspiring. You’re quiet but incisive, and I’ve been so happy to watch as you’ve bloomed and grown and taken on a bigger role on the team. I hope you keep your skates on forever, and that the skaters at your new home appreciate you as much as we did.


To my captain: Goddamnit. You’re going to leave me alone with all these young’uns? Now I’m going to be the freak who says “Hey, remember when…?” and everyone will look at me like I’m crazy, because nobody will.

We’ve traveled together all over the country, eaten bout-day breakfasts, clinked beers at countless afterparties, jogged together in our sweaties at regionals and nationals back when they were called that. You’ve consistently pushed me to be better, try harder, keep my feet moving and get low and hit with my hips (and I FINALLY understand what you meant when you said all those things). You have skated through injuries and agony and even put off replacing the battery in your pacemaker to skate in a bout with our team. You have made insane sacrifices, you have pushed yourself harder than pretty much anyone I’ve ever seen, and you’ve set an incredible example for generations of Mayhem skaters. When I think of the word Zen, I see your face.

We’ve welcomed dozens of skaters onto our team together and waved goodbye to about as many. And at our Five Boro Furies Awards Party this year, I’ll join hands with the rest of Mayhem and try to smile through my tears as I finally wish you bon voyage.


Over the past six years, I’ve lost dozens of teammates and managers into retirement or moving to another league. Each of these skaters and managers has shaped me as a skater and a person—improving some aspect of my skating skills, setting an example, making me a tougher, wiser, kinder, sillier, happier person.

This weekend, as our last hurrah of 2013, my team is traveling to New Orleans to skate against the Big Easy Rollergirls. When our manager hands me the star, I’ll look at the rest of the line sitting next to me—pivot, offense, defense…and I’ll keep looking down the bench, past the skaters who are still with me. I’ll see the ghost bench stretching down the track, with all my former teammates on it, cheering me on, providing support even though they’ve hung up their orange jumpsuits and moved on to new things. All these ghost blockers will take the track with me, lining up in their signature way, jostling for position and cracking jokes, putting their game faces on. It’ll be pretty crowded on the track. With so much love and support, I’m not sure how the other team stands a chance.


Dedicated to:

Gogo BaiBai

Surly Temple

Marlene Speedtrich

Regina Dentata


Roxy Gibrawlter

Miss American Thighs

Straight Razor

Polly Gone

Lucille Ballistic



Julietta Vendetta


TipHer Gore

Swede Hurt

Bimbo Slice

Hop Devil

Roxy Balboa

BJ Hooker

Cruel Hand Luke

Jane Gang

Margaret Thrasher

Anne Frankenstein

Sweet Sherry Pie

Angela Slamsbury

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Em Dash is a skater with Gotham Girls Roller Derby, which she joined in 2008 after a brief stint with Suburbia Roller Derby. She is also a founding member and Editor-in-Chief of Derbylife.com. For more of her writing, check out her new book, Derby Life: A Crash Course in the Incredible Sport of Roller Derby. (July 2015) http://www.gutpunchpress.com/

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About the Author

Em Dash is a skater with Gotham Girls Roller Derby, which she joined in 2008 after a brief stint with Suburbia Roller Derby. She is also a founding member and Editor-in-Chief of Derbylife.com. For more of her writing, check out her new book, Derby Life: A Crash Course in the Incredible Sport of Roller Derby. (July 2015) http://www.gutpunchpress.com/

  • http://www.londonrollergirls.com Fox Sake

    This is beautiful. <3

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