Around The World Men's Roller Derby World Cup competitors - Photo: ShirlaineForrest

Published on April 14th, 2014 | by Jonathan R


Men's Roller Derby World Cup competitors - Photo: ShirlaineForrest

A Dream Transcended: The 2014 Men’s Roller Derby World Cup

As all of the skaters began chanting country names in unison prior to the opening ceremony, it was clear that the Men’s Roller Derby World Cup was a dream come true.  15 countries, 41 games, professional-grade officiating, a smooth-operating staff of volunteers, a boisterous, energetic crowd, thousands of viewers from around the world (even Antarctica!), the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, and a feverish enthusiasm for a sequel summarize the clearly successful 3 days.  But there was something else. Something immaterial emerged over the weekend.  What began as an international roller derby tournament had transcended into a celebration of the human spirit.

Everyone present was brought together by a mutual love of the sport.  We all appreciated the skaters who dared roll onto the track.  We marveled at their courage to battle challengers face-to-face with uncertain outcome.  We sympathized with their plight in our harsh sport.  Rules frame the game yet it still feels cruel and unfair.  We erupted for every point, hard-earned; for every skater who refused to give up.  We were inspired by the clockwork teamwork and lightning-fast adjustments.  We oohed and awed at the grace and balance of precision footwork on wheels.  And we did not just cheer for our favorite skater or our compatriots, who each heroically represented their country, or even just the sport itself.  We cheered because their struggle was our struggle; we cheered for all of these family members newly discovered.

Surely most people had never seen such a gathering of countries before in person.  For most, meeting the Argentina All Stars and the Ninjapan Rollers was akin to confronting a tremendously distant cousin; a long lost member of your family who had traveled around the world just to play a sport with you.  A sport they enjoyed and loved just as much as you do whether they had been playing it for years, months, or never before.  The connection was instantaneous.  From across the language barrier they traveled, with nothing but the guarantee of playing 4 games.  No one could have promised them that the audience would immediately support them or cheer for them or cry with them or absolutely love them as one of their own.  It was a beautiful reunion.  I felt the harmony of diversity as the national anthems highlighted the history and uniqueness of each culture.  I could feel my unity with the rest of humanity as this tangible, conceptual proof of world peace played out right in front of me.  And it brought tears of joy to my eyes.

Alas, it was not all happiness.  Roller derby, like life, is bittersweet.  The weekend had its share of heartbreak, injury, and being forced, against every fiber in your body, to concede before the game clock expired.  With wide open hearts, skaters consoled dejected opponents and the crowd made faith-reaffirming shows of financial support.  Everyone was reminded that whatever side you’re on: “We’re with you.”

Still, the dispassionate reality remains: for there to be a winner in a competitive sport; there must also be a loser.  As one team celebrated the thrill of a close victory on the track, the losing team withdrew to the locker room in the sorrowful agony of defeat.  I met them in passing.  Their uniforms were wet with sweat and their faces empty with defeat.  And I knew what they were feeling.  I understood.  I grabbed the soaked jersey of one of them who had water dripping from his grey, cloudy eyes and said to him, “Don’t you worry about that !@#$% score.  You played like a champion.” And I meant it with the very core of my being.  Because he had dared to step on the track, for his country no less, and he had dared to be better.  And if today is not your day then it’s okay to cry. And when you’re done with that; skate on.  Because there will be more games to play.  And when you can’t anymore; we will skate on for you.   You’re part of the spirit of the derby.  And the spirit rolls on forever.

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