ick-ass playlists. But by the time I was in the car, headed to my next practice, I was forcing myself to sing “Unstoppable” and fighting back tears and anxiety. I was NOT unstoppable. I was a ridiculous middle aged woman clutching a pair of roller skates.
You might think Roller Derby is not for you. No place for someone who believes she’s 26.3 pounds overweight and would look terrible in leggings. No place for a baker, or a painter. No place for someone who loves yoga and butterflies, or to Contra dance and quilt. No place for someone who never kicked a soccer ball, played hockey, or ran track in high school. That it’s not a place for a mom of three little kids. Or two. Or one. Or five. Or for a teacher or nurse or accountant. No place for someone who likes to sit quietly and read for hours. Or for someone’s Nana. Or for someone with a disability. It’s definitely no place for someone who has never even been to the roller rink, right? There are a million reasons why it could never be for you. But you’d be wrong. In my league, there’s a place for everyone
You can join my league and become a tribal skating machine that flattens women left and right for the glory of your team and our league. If you want to do that, then yes, we want you, please join ASAP. But maybe that’s not you…yet. Or maybe that’s not you ever. And that’s okay. You still belong.
Maybe you’ve put your all into parenting–which is an important and respectable pursuit–but now you’re ready for a little you time. Maybe you need a kick start to get some exercise. Maybe you’re looking for someone to dance or laugh with on Friday night after practice, or a chance to run around in a rainbow tutu at a community parade. Maybe you have some pent up frustration toward the older brother who used to make your life hell and you’d love to roll around and crash into people as a way to vent. (Umm, I might be getting too personal here.) Anyway, my league can offer all those things.
We have skaters at all levels, from “Bambis” to experts who’ve played derby for years. We have a new training program for officials who skate and those who don’t. We have members who don’t skate very much or at all, but who enjoy the camaraderie, the committee work, and the community service aspect of membership. I am a trainer for our Derby 101 program. You can join AFA and we’ll teach you how to skate as safely as we can, and we’ll also support you in every step of your individual journey. And we’ll love you for being you and be happy with whatever niche you settle into as a member.
The only people who don’t belong here are those who are not accepting and supportive of every walk of life. They’re the ones who are judgy and demeaning. They might think that girls who play roller derby must come with a master’s degree in beating people up and an attitude tailored toward destruction. They’re mean and intolerant. I’m sure that’s not you, and that’s why you do belong.
We’ve all heard it. Change is good for the soul. Well, I believe that derby comes into your life at just the right moment when you need it. It will provide something for you that you’re not going to find elsewhere. This sport is so unique, it’s hard to explain what happens when you fully embrace it. Scientists have proven that your brain changes when you take on new challenges. New connections and pathways erupt, and all this improves your mental acuity and longevity. Derby is doing that for everyone who joins, and it’s also cutting new pathways in our community. Our fans see what this large group of individuals have achieved–a sustainable, healthy nonprofit league with a board of directors and eight committees that handle everything from training, to bout planning, to community service, for the purpose of fostering “teamwork, empowerment, and community engagement” (AFA Mission Statement). And I believe it’s inspiring to those who want change, not just in their lives but in our world. Yes, if people work together toward a common goal, great things can happen. The lovers and skaters of roller derby have not just jumped out of the box, they’ve stomped it flat and kicked it to the recycling bin. They are a new breed of independence and acceptance, and frankly, I believe we desperately need more of just that.
I wanted roller derby because I wanted to prove something to myself, that I’m strong and capable. And I also wanted derby because I could do this proving of things while roller skating and making friends and smashing into people, which I happen to think is fun. I also might be going through a midlife reinvention, known to some people as a crisis, but so what? What better way to change your life than with an instant horde of companions who’ll push you, and challenge you, and help you, and be there for you?
All those people I wrote about at the beginning, all those people who don’t belong, I guarantee that all of them are or could be playing roller derby. Just like you could be if you’re looking to fire up some neurotransmitters and pave a new path. And personally, I think you’ll look awesome in leggings. Everybody does. And they’re comfortable and practical and stretchy, so who cares anyway? Anyone who gives a fig about your leggings–this is not about them. This is about you.
(AFA will be recruiting new skaters to start in our Derby 101 program, beginning in September. For more info follow our Facebook Page, or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org)
I had a nice chat with Bull this week. We talked about some of the things that intimidate new skaters. One thing in particular that she touched on had been on my mind for a while so, after hearing Bull’s perspective, I wanted to air it out with you all.
I haven’t spent much time with Bull in the past. She has always been friendly and supportive, but I am kind of an introvert haven’t gotten to know many of my teammates. There have been many times I have felt like I just didn’t fit in. So, imagine my surprise when she shared with me that she has struggled with the whole “fitting in” thing too.
We talked about how we can really shoot ourselves in the foot because of how we perceive how well (or not) we “fit” with a group of people we are just getting to know. Especially when a bunch of those people are good at something we want to do but really suck at. Like skating.
I’m being transparent here. I still feel like I don’t fit most of the time! But the truth is, it is really my perception and not the reality. The people I am getting to know in AFA have the most supportive attitudes of any group of women I have ever met. And this is what keeps me coming back. Not only do I want to be the recipient of that attitude, but I want to be the kind of person that shows others “Hey! You do belong here.”
Before derby, my social pool was kiddie sized. I lived for most of my adult life with no close friendships. So, trading my kiddie pool for an Olympic sized derby pool meant making a decision to let faith, rather than fear, dictate how I interacted with people.
For example, before derby, I had never known a transgender person. But because of derby, I had the opportunity to meet a woman who started her life, biologically male. I will tell you, this gave me some anxiety. Not because of her, but because I felt my inadequacy to mentally roll with ease over the hurdle of what I didn’t know, to what my heart wanted, which was to make her feel welcome and at home with us. I was afraid because I knew it was very likely that I would unintentionally say or do something that would offend her. Like slipping and using the wrong pronoun or saying something that betrayed my ignorance about what it is like to live as a transgender woman.
But, by pushing through the anxiety, and into the desire to show friendship, I gained something wonderful. I gained a friend that I came to know as sensitive, funny, vulnerable, and incredibly strong. She and I would chat here and there, and as I got to know her, she described some things from her point of view that helped me understand her better, and to appreciate her class and her sense of humor. She helped me feel like I fit in with her, despite my anxiety about my own shortcomings.
So, you can see how inclusiveness works. You make an effort to include, and then wind up feeling included yourself. You figure out that whether or not you “fit in” there’s a place for you at the track and welcome and friendship too.
Now, we have a bunch of brand new skaters, and I’ve seen enough new skaters to recognize a few things. EVERYONE feels like they don’t “fit” at one point or another. Everyone has anxiety about something or about someone who is different from themselves. At some point, I believe everyone has a moment, or six, when they think it would be best just to quietly slip out the back door. But that would be a loss in so many ways.
If that is you, if you feel like you don’t fit in, if you feel like bolting, please don’t. Not only will you miss out on getting to know some incredible people, but we’ll miss out on getting to know you. Give yourself a chance to find your place. Look for someone who looks like you feel and say hello. Just stick around for a while and see what happens.
Derby Love, Angels
The Androscoggin Fallen Angels have a set of core values that we use as a compass to guide us. One of these values is Community Involvement.
AFA believes in the importance of community. We recognize the power of positive role models and the strength and success of supporting organizations in our community that are engaging in positive and impactful work. We embrace the strength and diversity of the Roller Derby community at large and our role as a participating league.
AFA has been a part of events in the community and has worked to support causes that we believe in since our founding in 2015. Here is a glimpse at some of the ways we have lent a hand over the last several months:
~Pride L/A AFA helped to hang posters for Lewiston/Auburn’s first ever Pride, and participated in the March to show our support and strong belief in equality.
Safe Voices 5K and Vigil. In the spring we volunteered to help direct runners along the course for the Safe Voices 5k, and some of us even ran or walked in the race! More recently, we attended a vigil in a show of support for victims of domestic violence and their families.
Lewiston Rec Department’s Tiny Tri. We love giving back to Lewiston Rec. The armory is our beloved home track and we assist the Rec Department whenever we can. The Tiny Tri was a chance for kids to experience the fun of a triathlon by riding their bikes and trikes, running through a playground, and taking a romp across Kennedy Park’s Splash Pad. It was adorable to watch and we loved helping out! Some of our kiddos took part too.
We also take part in the Rec Department Trunk or Treat event every year dressing up, handing out candy, and having a blast seeing all the local kids come out in their costumes. This year we did a DC trunk and a Marvel trunk, and we all came as superheroes.
Somali Bantu Community Harvest Day. AFA turned out at Whiting’s Farm that day to set up tables for a celebration of a successful harvest. Afterward, we got to share some amazing Somali food! The SBCMALA is one of the core causes that AFA has chosen to become involved with and we look forward to more volunteer opportunities for them in the future.
The Dempsey Center’s annual Dempsey Challenge. Our most recent volunteering took place at the annual Dempsey Challenge. Angels helped by setting up tents, making PB&J, and serving food and water to the riders along their route.
Angels love giving back. As our organization continues to grow, community involvement will remain a huge part of who we are.