Have you ever wondered about roller derby? Like, seen a picture or an article and had a little flutter of curiosity and a flash of derby fantasy? If you’re like me, it was more than a flutter, and, like me, you probably daydreamed “Whip It: The Sequel” starring (insert your name here). And then, like me, your grown up brain kicked in and said “Was that light green or did we just blow through a red? Wait, is it only Wednesday?” (Yaaaaawwwwnnnn)
Well, give your adult self a cookie and put her down for a nap. You’re going to grab your inner (wild) child by the arm and drag her to the Lewiston Armory to see what this roller derby business is all about.
This is not just any derby night, it’s your FIRST derby night. You, fresh derby diva, have just begun an exciting new adventure with the Androscoggin Fallen Angels Roller Derby League.
You’re early because you’re excited and nervous.
When you step into the Lewiston Armory you mentally kick yourself for being too eager. It’s awkward. Super intimidating. You see women of all shapes, all sizes, all kinds, and they are gearing up.
These are the vets, the badasses, the ones who have already clambered over a bunch of derby hurdles to form this fledgling team. They are laughing and talking, busy doing their derby girl thing. You hear things like “which wheels are you using tonight, 94s?” and “look at this bruise!” “Are we doing 27 in 5 tonight?” You have no idea what they’re talking about
Your eyes scan the wide open gymnasium for something to stand behind before one of them notices the new girl. No luck. You’ve got your new derby gear in your old canvas tote (so lame) so there’s no hiding, no backing out. Suddenly, you remember exactly what the first day of high school gym felt like and exactly how terrifying your gender can be to it’s own kind.
But, you only shake in you sneakers for a split second before a friendly face appears to welcome you and show you the ropes. She explains the gear, checks your mouth guard and helmet for proper fit, and reassures you that you don’t have to know how to skate to do this.
You sit on the bench and finish gearing up, watching the vets out of the corner of your eye to make sure you’re not committing any derby faux pas. Girls pass by, saying hello, introducing themselves with fantastic derby names and you wonder if the names you have been thinking about are cool enough or whether everyone will think they’re silly. Maybe, you say to yourself, you should just forgo the derby name. But so far everyone seems so friendly and down to earth. Maybe this will be okay.
New girls start to trickle in, and you see on their faces how you must have looked a few minutes ago, waaayyy freaked out! You try to relax and take it all in. Butterflies are out of control.
A couple of team members are all skated up and gliding gracefully around the track, warming up. Most of the skaters are finding the newbies to welcome them and give them pointers on how to make sure gear is secure. You’ve already got your gear on so now you can watch and listen.
“I don’t think I can even stand up on these things!” Nervous laugh. “ No kidding! I don’t remember how long ago I last skated.” Someone nods her head as she struggles to figure out which way her knee pad goes. “Did you get butt pads? They’re not required but I’m afraid I’ll break my ass!!” More nervous laughter. “I don’t want my ass to look any bigger than it already is.” “I don’t know about wearing those tank tops. All my fat rolls will show.”
You recognize your own thoughts in the chit chat. As you listen you begin to realize, this is how we women try to fit in, get comfortable with meeting new people in an intimidating situation. We tell everyone how pathetic we are, give them a heads up, before they have a chance to do it for us. That way, when we fail, at least we can save face by saying, “See? I told you I suck. You can’t say I didn’t warn you!” You laugh, and throw in some self shaming of your own. You don’t want to seem like you’re too full of yourself.
But maybe in your not- too- distant past you would have judged some of these women in just the same way they are judging themselves on your behalf. It’s what we do in our culture. We judge each other, we judge ourselves, and we accept and internalize judgement as though it was our birthright as women.
You start to really look at these women who are just as crazy as you are and just as flawed as you are and you have an epiphany. If you apologize for your self and your imperfections, then you’re telling everyone around you that not only are you not worthy, but neither are they. Because how can you hate your own rolls, or bony knees or clumsiness without, in turn, hating someone else’s?
You ponder this during your first practice as you struggle to stay upright, to shake off the burning in your legs and back, to catch your breath, keep up with the girls, wipe the salt out your eyes.
Then, BAM! You fall, and you take out a few other girls in the process. You’re mortified. Did you hurt someone? Break something? Pee your pants? You can’t even get yourself up and you’re reaching out to help your victims. “Omigod, are you okay? I’m so sorry!”
An Angel glides up to make sure no one is injured. She is smiling as you’re still apologizing for causing the crash, and she says “There’s no sorry in derby!” You recover. Push through the embarrassment and you skate out the rest of the practice.
Maybe it doesn’t sink in completely, maybe it’s not a light switch moment, but maybe, on your first night of roller derby, you learned something that had nothing to do with skating. You learned you can give yourself permission, at least for one night a week to just be, in all your glory and with all your flaws. No apologies. No sorry. Who knows where that might take you?