Three years seems like such a long time when you stop and think about it, yet it flies by in the blink of an eye. One can go through a lifetime of changes in those thirty-six months. This league certainly has.
One cold early spring morning in 2015, I was talking with a co-worker who had recently moved to Lewiston/Auburn, when she mentioned that she played roller derby. I was in awe. Derby girls were inspiring and tough and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. The more she told me, the more I wanted to be a member of her world.
Yet, there wasn’t a local league. While derby fascinated me, I didn’t know the rules; hell, I didn’t really know anything about the sport at all. Plus, I hadn’t been on skates since I was a kid. There was no way that I would be brave enough to drive an hour to Portland and try out for Maine Roller Derby’s Fresh Meat.
It seemed like such a simple idea at first. We should start a league here! We talked to co-workers about this brilliant plan, and within minutes, there was a solid group of seven. If we were excited about the idea of derby–and we were–there was clearly a need for it in the community. We were positive that once others discovered what we were planning that women would be rushing out to join us.
The original seven held their first formal meeting in a second-floor walk-up apartment, most of us clueless about the journey we were about to embark on. We had a vision for the league, friendship, and faith that everything would work out. And the Androscoggin Fallen Angels were born.
For months we worked tirelessly. Creating an amateur sports league from nothing is not easy. As much as we wanted it to be just about roller derby, we were starting our own non-profit corporation. Reckless spent hours working on paperwork, while others began recruiting and spreading the word, and others struggled to find a practice space. We all invested our own money, paying dues months ahead, in order to have funds in the bank. For some, it didn’t feel like we were ever going to get to actually skate, let alone bout against other teams.
Our first recruitment meeting was held in late May, and women and men of all ages and skating abilities crowded into the room, and an excited buzz filled the air. In June, the entire team left their first practice smiling. We had a lot to celebrate; after months of preparation, there was finally a roller derby league in L/A.
That joy was short lived. The only founding member with any derby experience at all moved away mere weeks after that first practice. We lost more members as some decided that roller derby wasn’t for them, injuries pulled people away, and others left because there was too much work. There will always be turnover in leagues, and the saturation rate is typically low, yet we lost so many in such a short period of time that it physically hurt.
As the months went by, we pushed forward. Yes, we made mistakes, like leagues often do early on. It’s important to remember that we did the best we could with the tools and knowledge we had at the time, and always with the best intention for the league as a whole. We made changes to the structure of the organization, created committees, brought on a coach, held our first bout. We lost more members, women I’d adored and loved, and we struggled. There were times I was terrified we wouldn’t survive.
Yet, here we are, turning three. We have The Inferno – a strong bouting team, Derby 101 – where we welcome all skaters of all abilities and teach them the basics of safe skating, and a membership that continues to thrive. Most importantly, we have strong and fierce friendships.
It hasn’t been easy. I was taken out of the game I love so much, sidelined by an injury no one saw coming, but stayed on to help in any way I could because I was too stubborn, to in love with the game and league, to leave. I’ve lost friends along the way, sisters who will carry a piece of us with them always. Out of the seven originals, only three of us remain, our dedication to the league and respect for each other cementing us here.
It definitely wasn’t always fun and games. However, when you look at AFA and our history, you see a great analogy for any struggling team. The people next to you right now may not be there tomorrow, but that doesn’t mean you give up on them or your goal. When you’re down, you dig deep, re-strategize, try a new approach. You keep fighting until you find something that works.
I believe that AFA has finally done that. Our first vision for the league has changed many times over the years, shifting with the needs of the members. However, I know that we will continue to grow and thrive. The best things are still ahead of us.
Wicked Deviant, a founding member, told us once that roller derby finds you when you need it the most. That advice struck a chord with many members. While I don’t disagree that derby helps you find the person buried inside that you’ve been missing, I think it’s so much more.
There’s a passion in derby I’ve never found in other sports. Some love the physical aspects with every fiber of their being; derby is a full-contact sport on roller skates and isn’t for the faint of heart. Others love the comradery and community you find within a league; the sisters who see your faults and love you because of them, always encouraging you to push outside your comfort zone and kick ass.
I love it all. The friends I’ve made along the way who will be in my life forever, the laughs I’ve shared with my teammates, the pride I have when I see the Inferno jerseys on the track. I adore this league as ferociously as I’ve ever cared about anything. We all do. That’s part of what makes AFA so special.
I told someone once that I’ll never forget the first recruitment. In reality, I don’t think I’ll forget a single information session or recruitment night. There’s something magical about seeing the reactions and small transformations of potential members over that few hours. Most come in worried, faces pinched in anxiety, probably chastising themselves and wondering why in the hell they thought they could join a roller derby league. Those are the women I gravitate to. Those are the ones I know need me and this league. When they leave smiling, that first fear conquered, paperwork in hand, vowing to join us for Derby 101, I find my happy place.
Those women, just like the ones who came before them, are the reason we started the league. They are our future. They are each of us.
One thousand ninety-five days doesn’t seem like it’s enough time to change someone’s life as drastically as roller derby, and the Androscoggin Fallen Angels, have transformed mine. Sometimes I have a hard time recalling the woman I once was, giddy with excitement over the idea of becoming a derby girl, yet completely naïve about what it would take to achieve that dream. Other times, I see myself in the faces of a new member, and I smile because their joy is contagious. And I remember that it’s not just the league that has grown; each of us has, too.
I, for one, cannot wait for the next three years.