by Rosemary Glos “Zebra Muscle”

Meanie Mouse, Zebra Muscle, Fire Punk, Riptide

Meanie Mouse, Zebra Muscle, Fire Punk, Riptide

Note: This is actually an essay I wrote for english class in response to a prompt about “myself and sports” but it kind of spiraled out of control so I thought I would share it with y’all…

“What? YOU play ROLLER DERBY? No offense, but you don’t seem like that kind of girl.”

Unfortunately, this is something I hear almost weekly: confused acquaintances (and even established friends)  aghast at the fact that I play “that sport where girls elbow other girls”. I cannot help but be slightly taken aback. What exactly, is “that kind of girl”, anyway? This confusion, I believe, stems from the common misconceptions people have about roller derby, as a disorganized, staged, and most erroneous of all, violent sport. So before I continue let’s make some things clear: Roller derby is not staged. Roller derby has RULES, and referees, and a penalty box. The athletes in roller derby don’t play to hurt people. We are playing roller derby because it is challenging, complex game with a community of absolutely wonderful, supportive people, and above all, it is FUN.

Okay, so I understand, to a certain extent, why so many people don’t understand my love for roller derby. My whole life has been about creating things; writing stories, making art and sewing clothes. Many people think that derby is the opposite. The questions “Don’t you get hurt a lot?” and “Wow, how many girls have you punched?” are the top two things that people ask me when I tell them that Thursday “practice” isn’t soccer. Really? Clearly, we have a lot of work to do. The fact is that for me, roller derby is not about destruction at all, but construction. After five years of playing I have developed my physical (and emotional) strength, become strongly invested in  my community and created a unique network of friends bound by not just a love for the sport we play, but everything from cosmetology to knitting.

Now about getting injured: It happens. After all, we are girls on boots with wheels going at high speed hitting each other. But again, there are some points that need to be made clear: We are wearing head, elbow, wrist, knee, and tooth protection. Also, it is against the rules of roller derby to use arms, hands, legs and feet to initiate a “hit”. That makes punching, elbowing, tripping, kicking, even resting your hands on an opponent’s back for too long equal to a minute (or more) in the penalty box.  And in derby, a LOT can happen in one minute. There’s nothing more excruciating than watching your team lose points while helplessly stuck in the box. Therefore, it is in our best interests to hit legally. A properly executed roller derby hit is made using shoulders, hips, “booty” and upper thigh. That hit can only land on the opponents shoulder, hips, upper thigh and chest. I won’t try to make you look at roller derby with rose tinted glasses – things don’t always go perfectly. But in essence  (and without spending an inordinate about of time talking about rule specifics) the game is not as simple as crashing your way through the pack – there are limitations and they help keep the players, referees and fans safe.

Ahhhh. The fans. People often wonder what kinds of people watch roller derby anyway, especially because it is so often billed simply as “hot girls in fishnets and roller skates hitting each other”. This may be the reason some people come to a roller derby bout, but it’s certainly not why they stay.  No, our fans continue coming time after time because they’ve fallen in love with the strategy, endurance and just plain fun that is a roller derby bout. After the initial, “what the hell is going on out there, anyway?” moment, newcomers quickly become engrossed in nuances of the rules, inside jokes and overall excitement for the game. Many parents make Saturday night bouts a family affair, bringing their children, who watch with fascination (and laughingly participate in the halftime “Chuck – A – Duck” for prizes). We love our fans and earnestly encourage their excitement by partying with them, funding their non-profit businesses and recruiting them as volunteers, skaters, referees and Non Skating Officials.

Before I began playing roller derby, I did not understand sports fans in the least; I had never seriously played a sport or enjoyed watching one so much that I would drool over fancy gear or (god forbid) follow famous players on Facebook. Who cares about that kind of stuff? I had more important things to do. But now I understand. I dove skates-first into a whirlwind that combines athleticism, fun and community into my ultimate sport. No offense taken, but you’re wrong, I am “that kind of girl”.

© Rosemary Glos 2013