Photo: Tshirt by Debbie Lee
I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in weeks. And surprisingly my two and four-year-old aren’t to blame.
I’ve been lying in bed thinking of taglines for the Memphis Roller Derby logo, rink names for some of my new skater friends, and drills to try out at our next practice. Sometimes I just lie there and imagine myself jamming through a row of blockers while the announcer screams, “Smashimi scores again!”
A few short months ago, I didn’t even know what roller derby was. My husband, Warren, called me from his dig in Missouri and said, “Hey check out ‘Rollergirls’ on A&E.” “Rollergirls” is a reality show that follows the Texas Lonestar Rollergirls throughout their bouting season. The Lonestar Rollergirls play the game in short skirts and striped socks, focusing more on athleticism than staged drama. (Although there is a lot of drama in the show.) Warren and his fellow archaeologists had been watching it in their motel room and he (rightly) thought I might like it.
I basically grew up at the roller rink. I had no idea that grown women could skate AND make it look cool. After watching one episode, I called Warren back and said, “We have to move to Austin immediately!”
“Uh, okay,” he said, unsurely. He had been trying (in vain) to get me out of Memphis for years.
“Or, maybe I should just start a derby here,” I said. The Texas Lonestar Rollergirls and other leagues like theirs were grassroots—skater owned an operated. There was no reason why I couldn’t really do it.
If I had time, that is.
“Why don’t we just take the kids skating this weekend?” Warren very pragmatically suggested.
Skating is a lot like riding a bike. Once I laced up my Skateland rentals (something my inner hood was mortified by), I was speeding around the rink just like I did in the 80s (but now for much shorter periods of time with much more perspiration). My four-year-old cheered as I whizzed past him. He was impressed with my skating abilities and was determined to keep up with me. My two-year-old wasn’t so interested, but agreed to wear skates as long as he could hang out by the video games and concession stand. Warren and I raced each other and even spun ourselves around in circles until we felt like puking. I told everyone I knew how much fun we had skating, and before I knew it, we had pretty much populated the rink with friends and family.
The more I skated, the more I thought about starting a derby in Memphis. I still had my moves, but I didn’t know if a “Mom” could really be a rockin’ rollergirl. I went online in search of a role model. I found Eight Track, the mother/step-mother of six children ages 5-12 who is the best blocker and most feared skater in the Texas Rollergirls Flat Track Derby Association in Austin, Texas (the sister league of the one featured on A&E).
When I asked Eight Track what she thought about a mom starting a roller derby, she advised me to go for it. “It's the greatest hobby, “ she said. “Where else can you just wake up one morning with 50 or so best friends who will be there to support you through anything that comes along? Where else can you get good cardio and physical activity that is ever changing and revolves around nothing but women? It's exciting, fun, diverse, and for a couple hours every month, you get to be someone completely different if you want to. Derby allows you to schedule around home, family and work. We all face the same issues so we've designed the entire sport to accommodate all of those issues.”
I was definitely encouraged by her words, but in the back of my mind I thought, My kids are so little. They need me. I couldn’t possibly do this. I asked Eight Track if she knew a derby girl with younger kids that I could talk to. It turned out that Tinkerhell, the mother of a five and an almost three-year-old was just who I was looking for. She agreed that derby is an amazing way to exercise, have your own life, be with adults and gain a great group of friends. But she warned me that a skater has to have a lot of time.
“In order to be a skater who really contributes to the league (meetings, events, committees, practices, games) you have to have at least three times a week set aside and be online often. It has to be something your family wants, not just what you want. Many marriages/relationships have dissolved over the years because someone committed themselves to more than all parties wanted,” Tinkerhell said.
I knew that I could count on Warren and the boys to support me, but I didn’t know if I would be able to actually allow myself so much time to, well, myself. Kit-N-Ass, a jammer and blocker for the TC Rollers in Minnesota told me that making time for herself made her a better mom. “I know I lost my identity for a while when I was only a mom and a wife. I put my loved ones before myself for so long that I forgot who I was.” Kit-N-Ass added, “It’s so important to be able to redefine who you are and have fun with it. With Roller Derby, you meet so many other women in your same shoes—it's great!”
Hmm…this was starting to sound good. Good exercise, good friends…why not? Unfortunately, I could think of several reasons—two very demanding children, a demanding full-time job, and a husband with a demanding full-time job that often sent him out of town for several weeks at a time.
Tinkerhell confided, “I often envy the girls who can practice whenever they want, go to all the events and parties, and make all the committee meetings. My skating is not at the level it would be if I could go to 4 or 5 practices a week like some girls do.”
I wasn’t sure I was ready to start a derby, but I had an insatiable desire to skate as much as possible. I decided to get some outdoor skates and try skating on my own a few times a week to see if that would keep me satisfied. I started thinking like a teenage boy with a skateboard—I was eyeing parking lots and pathways all over town. Before the UPS man could deliver my skates, I found out that three other women in Memphis had already decided to start a roller derby! I was thrilled.
The first informational roller derby meeting was on a Sunday afternoon at the same time that I usually took the boys skating. Already I was conflicted. Sunday afternoons at Skateland with my family had become the highlight of my week, and I didn’t want anything—not even the roller derby—to mess that up. I emailed the derby organizers and told them I was interested, but that I wouldn’t be able to attend the meeting.
On that Sunday, we went skating as usual. I was a little mad at myself for chickening out. I knew that I was letting my shyness get the best of me, and that I was using my kids as an excuse to mask my fear of change. While I helped my four-year-old around the rink, Warren noticed two women come in to talk to Skateland’s owner. He skated over to me and said, “Hey look, I bet those women are with the derby.”
They weren’t in short skirts or striped tights, but they definitely looked the part. “I bet you’re right,” I said, as I took a deep breath and skated over to them.
“Are you with the roller derby?” I asked the taller woman with dyed red streaks in her hair.
“Yeah, I’m Elle Tempered,” she said.
“I wanted to come to the meeting today, but I always bring my kids skating on Sundays,” I said.
“That’s cool,” she said. “I’m a mom, too. You can sign this sheet. Our first practice is in two weeks.”
A mom! I cheered in my head as I added my name to the long list—several of which were familiar to me. Suddenly, all of my earlier hesitation was gone and I knew that I was meant to be a rollergirl.
As I talked to Elle Tempered some more, I discovered that we had a lot in common. We both grew up skating almost every weekend—she in Raleigh, me at East End—and we had both been inspired by the A&E show. Elle told me that after seeing it, she immediately got on the Internet and started looking for more information. “I ended up on the Tuscon, Arizona website and saw that they were having try-outs. I said to my boss, ‘I’m just going to have to go to Tuscon and try out.’”
Luckily for me (and the rest of the derby girls), Elle decided to recruit two other women, both mothers of young children, to help her start the Memphis Roller Derby instead.
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