I caught a glimpse of myself in the gym mirror today, all sweaty and disheveled-looking in my Gotham Girls Roller Derby top, and all I could think was, damn, I miss getting knocked on my ass by strong women.
Usually when I tell people that I used to play roller derby, they have no idea what I’m talking about. It’s no surprise, really – female-led sports don’t often get the attention that they deserve, even when the sport is particularly badass. So here’s an overview:
What is roller derby?
Roller derby is a contact sport played by two teams of five members roller skating counter-clockwise around a track.
Games consists of a series of short jams in which both teams pick a jammer, who wears a star on the helmet. The jammer scores points by lapping members of the opposing team. The teams attempt to stop the opposing jammer while assisting their own jammer.
People get knocked down a lot, hence all the padding you have to wear. It’s a bit violent and very fun.
Why is it important?
Modern roller derby is dominated by all-female teams. It’s one of very few examples of women basically being in charge of the direction of something. Yes, there are male teams and co-ed teams, but ladies are leading the sport. And that’s kind of awesome.
Why did you start playing?
I started playing roller derby because I was lonely.
Adrian and I had moved to Chester, leaving all of our friends in Glasgow behind. I was working from home and literally didn’t see anyone all day. It was all very Katie No-Mates. I needed a way to meet people, and for some reason I decided that playing a full-contact sport would be a good way to do that.
I turned up at my first practice armed with a load of expensive gear that I didn’t know how to wear and no idea what to expect. A bit of skating around in a circle, yeah?
There was a some of that – it’s the best bit, really – but I also had to learn a whole new language. Jam. NSO. T-stop. Panty (which is a stretch helmet cover, not your underwear). I had to learn how to put duct tape around the toes of my skates so they wouldn’t scuff. I had to learn how to take a hit and fall small. I fell a lot. I had to get used to the smell of very sweaty women, because I was surrounded by a lot of them, and they were VERY sweaty.
Why did you stop playing?
Simple – I got pregnant.
One of the first things I asked my midwife at my initial booking appointment was whether I could still play roller derby.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“A full-contact sport on roller skates,” I said.
“Oh,” she said. “Umm…no. Better not do that.”
I had my daughter, then soon after moved back to Glasgow, leaving my team in Chester behind. There are several roller derby teams in Glasgow, but I never got back on my skates again. I was too tired. Balancing work, parenting, and, yes, a little blogging habit – was about all I could manage. The idea of doing a full day of work, coming home to do the whole parenting thing, then lacing up my skates and whizzing around a track for two hours seemed impossible.
It still kind of does, if I’m honest. But I miss it. Roller derby made me feel strong, even when I was getting body slammed into walls. There’s nothing like an epic bruise to show you just how much your body can take.