how did you discover roller derby?

Watching the amazing talent on display at the 2013 Women’s Flat Track Derby Association Championships in November, it’s easy to forget that all of these skaters were once brand new to the sport. Leading up to Championships weekend, the WFTDA asked a few of the participating skaters to share their stories of how they discovered and fell in love with the sport of women’s flat track roller derby.

The Smacktivist in her very first game, a themed intraleague bout called “Skatemare”

The Smacktivist #365, Ohio Roller Girls

When I joined the Ohio Roller Girls in August of 2011, I had no idea how the league and the sport would become a catalyst for positive changes in my life. I also had no idea what an intense and dedicated league OHRG was.

I feel like I was definitely set up for success with a league that plays so many games, having played very competitive travel hockey throughout high school. My first season was such a whirlwind and I jumped right into playing with the Charter Team, as well as with our B team, Gang Green, that I didn’t even have time to feel much like a rookie.

If I had one piece of advice for new skaters or folks thinking about skating it’s be kind to yourself. Give yourself time to learn and develop as a skater and don’t be hard on yourself if you aren’t getting things right away! It will come with practice! Derby should be fun!

Mick Swagger in her first season on the Rose City Rollers travel team. Photo by Masonite Burn

Mick Swagger #53, Gotham Roller Derby (Formerly Rose City Rollers)

When I was Rose City “fresh meat” the WFTDA Championships were held in Portland. I was mesmerized by the ability of the skaters at the top level of the sport. I knew I wanted to be there. The following week at practice before we started our timed sprint laps, our coach yelled, “Who watched Championships and wants to be there next year?” I immediately raised my hand and yelled “I do.” No one else raised their hand or yelled like me. I felt a little dorky, but that was what my heart wanted. I vowed to never stop working until I got there. Within eight months, I was bouting with Rose City’s travel team. Every moment on RCR TT when we advanced in ranking to Regionals and then to Championships was a significant, cry like a baby, joyous occasion.

Photo by Neal “Hassle Brad” Humphris

Raw Heidi #357, London Roller Derby

I had heard of these mysterious ‘rollergirls’ in London before but had assumed they were some kind of vintage hipster types, so it wasn’t until my pal invited me to “drink beer and watch girls smash into each other on rollerskates,” that my interest in derby was really piqued. But boy was it piqued!! I worked myself into a fever pitch leading up to the bout, and of course we were late, and of course we got lost, but when we finally got into the sports centre, I was immediately struck by that derby bolt that got so many of us.

How could this game even EXIST without me in it? How had it thus far escaped my attentions? And how could I charm or trick my way into skating ASAP with these kind of tough, scary looking cool chicks? I breathlessly told one of the skaters I wanted to join in one of the breaks (remember three periods? Remember? Huh?). And she spoke to me in a way that would become second nature to me in time, wanting to be polite to someone in the break but head really still in the game. … She foolishly gave me the info I needed, mind you.

I borrowed the whole kit and kaboodle from friendly rollergirls and was skate-ready in less than three weeks. I pretty much was more scared than I had ever been of anything in my life, but after discovering I could still put to good use some of my misspent rollerblading teenage skillz and entering into a fierce competition immediately with the other newbies, my time at LRG had begun. Little did I know how life altering that decision to brave going to a crappy little gym in East London on a grey Saturday afternoon would be.

Bloody Mary and some of the Texecutioners at the West Region Playoffs in 2008

Bloody Mary #30, Texas Rollergirls

The first glimpse I got of roller derby was on a poster at Rock ‘N’ Roll Rentals, where my boyfriend at the time worked. The rollergirls were coming in to rent their PA there, and they gave us tickets. The program said, “Want to be a rollergirl? See Melicious.”

These are the moments that change your life, right? I didn’t know how to skate before roller derby – in fact, I had two plates in my arm from a terrible broken arm at a childhood skating party, and I had been certain I never needed to roller skate again. But something happens when you see yourself reflected in roller derby. Before I could flinch, I was carpooling to a skating rink twice a week and trying to learn to skate backwards, on brown rental skates, in a corner of roller derby practice.

I still can’t backwards skate.

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