junior derby: bringing out the best in family

NOT VERY LONG AGO, WE HAD JUST filled up our gas tank for the third time in one week, and we were doing it again the next day because we had practice. We were pulling into the parking lot of the skating rink for our second bout of the weekend, this one a mere three hours away from home.

“Mom”, Chevy, our 9-year-old says from the back seat, “My skin is tingling. My heart is all pumpy.” Oh yeah. This is how I know. She is ready to skate.

We’ve been in the junior roller derby world for almost six and a half years now. It started out slow, but the reigns have been tightened and we are holding on and refuse to let go. I have watched Kat, our 14-year-old, gain everything on the track: confidence in herself, new friends, learned skills, respect for her coaches, trust in her teammates and loyalty to her league. 

Kat was eight when she started playing. After I retired from the derby league I had skated with, Kat took all that knowledge she had stored, and completely surprised us all during her first few junior derby practices. She already knew most of the rules. Because their dad and I had worked at a skating rink when they were younger, both girls already knew how to skate, but in derby, skating is only half the battle.

Chevy can’t get enough of roller skating. She is the kid who will practice for three hours, and on the way home, ask to session skate at the skating rink. For Chevy, her very first junior roller derby practice was two weeks after her fifth birthday. After watching Kat and waiting her turn for so long, she finally got to put on her own gear and hit the track. When you hear people say, ‘Size doesn’t matter’ about this sport, they truly mean it. I have seen Chevy fit through holes as a jammer that doesn’t seem possible. I have seen opposing skaters look for Kat when she’s backward blocking, attempt to go through her, and she is skating solid. It floors me to think about how much knowledge Kat and Chevy have soaked up about this game.

They get knocked down, they fall, they get back up. The girls are chartered for two teams, one open (co-ed), and one all female, play for a rec league, and foster regularly for a fourth. Practice, practice, bout, repeat. Junior derby is a family of its own. We support each other. We support each other’s kids. We support the love of the game. It is my responsibility as a derby mom, NOT to instill in my children win, win, win, but to instill good sportsmanship, respect for your opponent, and to celebrate the little victories.

My kids walk taller when they are wearing their derby jerseys. I can watch Kat and Chevy go from arguing in the car about who gets the last ketchup packet, to being on the track an hour later, with Kat turning into Chevy’s number one protector. As a blocker, Kat stands twice as strong when Chevy is jamming. When it’s game time, they’re in bout mode, and they are different kids.

This sport can take everything from parents and give everything back all in the same day. Week after week, this sport has shown the most dedicated volunteers, coaches, and refs. Every time we’re leaving together as a team from an away bout, the adults are always checking on each other: “Are you home yet? How are you doing? Don’t get sleepy behind the wheel.” I’ve seen concussion checks, kids carried out on stretchers begging the EMTs to let them get back to the game, and blood and vomit being wiped off the floor. I’ve seen parents give kids shirts *literally* off their back because a jersey was forgotten, and it’s the only shirt around that will match the team color. I’ve seen skates broken apart during a bout, only to be feverishly duct taped together to go out for the three remaining jams. I’ve cried unexpected tears over this sport and held other derby parents while they shed tears. My children have played no other sports that have rocked me to my core the way this one does. And my skaters have really only just begun.

At the end of the day, my kids will lace up their skates, put on their gear, and pop in their mouth guards again because this is what they love to do. This is what they’re good at. And if I can do something as small as drive them to practice, help tie Chevy’s skates, and refill Kat’s water bottle, I do that. Their teammates and they are the athletes on the floor. At the end of the day, my favorite thing to do is the easiest. I just love watching my kids skate.

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