Before our first practice we were all asked to sign the following waiver: The risk of injuries from the activities involved in this program is significant, including the potential for permanent paralysis and death, and while particular rules, equipment and personal discipline may reduce the risk, the risk of serious injury, including death, remains.
Elle and the other derby organizers assured us that we would be required to wear protective gear—knee & elbow pads, wrist & mouth guards, and a helmet—at all times and that we would be trained to fall without breaking anything. I had ended my soccer career ten years earlier with reconstructive knee surgery and had done everything I could (i.e. quit drinking and smoking) to remove myself from harm’s way since becoming a mother. The thought of a serious injury did not appeal to me.
The fact that Elle, one of our better skaters, broke her arm at the first practice after losing her balance didn’t ease my tensions. I asked her about her injury and how it affected her feelings about doing the derby.
“I wanted the derby to be an outside fun thing that I did that was personal. You know, I wanted to have a double life almost,” Elle said. “I didn’t want [my ten-year-old daughter] Ramona’s teachers to think that I was an idiot. You know, I like for them to see me as responsible. Then I went and immediately broke my arm! The last field trip I went on, the other moms gave me funny looks, but I’m pretty much ignoring them because I can already see that the derby is changing me for the better. It’s really good for Ramona to see me happy and feeling strong.”
It may seem strange that one can simultaneously have a broken arm and feel strong, but I knew exactly where she was coming from. It’s important for our kids to see their moms doing something they enjoy, even if it does involve a little risk. Tinkerhell said that her kids sometimes get concerned when they see her fall during bouts, but they understand that it is part of the game. “If I come home with injuries they think it's tough. They wrap Ace bandages around themselves and pretend to have derby injuries too,” she said. “It kinda comes in handy when they actually hurt themselves because they don't view it as such a big deal.”
I signed my waiver and I’ve accepted the fact that I might get hurt. However, I do everything I can to avoid it. I try to be aware of my surroundings at all times and I have made practicing my jumps and weaving a priority. I feel strong and capable.
For some, the hardest part of being in the derby is not how to take a hit, but how to give them out. The Memphis Roller Derby is still focusing on basic skills, so I haven’t had to put the hurt on anyone yet. A friend of mine, Di O’Bolic, plays in the newly formed Gem City Roller Girls in Ohio. She told me that she was a monster at volleyball in high school, but that now she was having trouble reclaiming that part of herself. “It's been hard to get there again,” she said. “The seven years of motherhood I've had, nurturing my kids and trying to be peaceful and nonviolent with them has definitely made me somewhat of a pussy!”
I used to be pretty tough on the soccer field, and having two boys has also helped elevate my “Hey, that’s too rough!” threshold, but I’m afraid that I, too, am a pussy. Mommacherry, a blocker for Seattle’s Rat City Rollergirls, told me that early on she had trouble hitting the other girls but she eventually got over it. “I had some maternal roadblock against violence!” she said. “Even when I hit someone, I wanted to go back and help them up. My team would yell at me to keep going, so I would. Things just clicked one day and it became fun to hit people. There’s a thrill now, in hitting and in being hit! I love taking someone out and I love falling down and getting back up.”
The first time we practiced falling at practice it was kind of a rush. Thanks to our extra-tough skateboarding kneepads, it really didn’t hurt. And it definitely made me feel strong to be able to get right back up. Eight Track told me that she loves the physical side of the game. “My favorite aspect of flat track derby is the truly up close and personal interaction with die hard fans," she told me. “It's always great fun to take out an opposing skater but nothing beats taking out an opposing skater, five fans, three beers, two hotdogs, one slice of pizza and snagging some lady’s purse on your wheels as you return to the track.”
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