Derby Disease

So, as I wrote about in the last blog, I spent one night NSOing, and I was hooked on derby. (NSO stands for Non-Skating Official. Those are the helpful, dedicated people that stand in the middle of the track with clipboards and whiteboards, keeping score and other statistical measurements for a derby bout—we are always looking for help, so let us know if you feel inclined.) I came back every Thursday and eventually helped out at my first home bout. It was my first time seeing an entire bout, not just a scrimmage. Both teams in BBRG’s league played: Black Thunder (A team) and Blue Lightning (B team). I was given a job to do – and honestly, I got so involved in it, I can’t remember if we won either game. But I remember seeing all our girls gathered in their black and blue uniforms and feeling so proud to be associated with them, even if no one knew it but me. For some of the girls on that track, it would be their first bout. I can’t imagine how they felt lining up on the track that day, and I can’t wait until I’m in the same spot. They hit hard, they fell hard, and they worked together.

And not only does BBRG work hard, they play hard. After the bout, I went to my first after-party. Our parties are legendary—we even had someone write a song about the team for that very reason. Everyone had a great time, including the visiting teams. I will admit, I still felt a little uncomfortable being around all these people I didn’t know well. As I mentioned, there isn’t much time for talking during scrimmages, and there were so many members of the team I hadn’t really met yet. But my fellow NSOs and I bonded, most of whom had the same dream as me—to be on a team someday. Some of the girls in the league went out of their way to make me feel welcome. I had never had so much fun with such a diverse group of women. I ended up working every home bout last season as an NSO, taking on new jobs and trying to learn everything I could, and also tried to attend as many of the events that I could too. Not only could I support the league, but I could really get to know some of the girls when they weren’t skating.

In the meantime, boot camp was coming in September. Boot camp is exactly what it sounds like. You sign up and show up for six weeks, every Sunday, and you learn the basics of derby. You work hard and you sweat — a lot. For some of the girls, the fundamentals of skating are also on the agenda. The last day of boot camp, you take your evaluations, and if you pass, you make it into the league for the next season. I admit, I was obsessed. I read articles, surfed on-line stores, hit up members of the league for info, and basically ate, slept and breathed derby. The funny thing is, if you asked ANY derby girl about their first few months, they’d probably tell you the exact same thing. Derby is all consuming when you’re new, and it had taken over my brain, like a serious disease. I went to session skates at local rinks every weekend and begged the B team coach, I Spyder, to come and work with me. I hadn’t been on skates in TWENTY years, and even back then, I was no prodigy. I spent a good chunk of my tax return buying skates and gear, with the thought that decent equipment might help me in my quest. (Derby is NOT cheap. That’s why we beg for sponsors every year. It’s tough to watch some of the girls whose wrist guards are held on by duct tape because they can’t afford new ones.) When my boxes arrived with my stuff inside, I know I looked like a four-year-old on Christmas morning. Opening each package made me smile. My son cracked up watching me struggle to figure out how to put everything on. Once I managed to get geared up, I stood in front of my bedroom mirror and was amazed at myself. I still couldn’t believe I was doing this! I walked around the house for an hour with my gear on, feeling completely silly and excited at the same time.

While I was giddy about new skates and gear, I also had to take stock of myself. Not only had I not been on skates in 20 years, I was 34 and had never been what you’d call a natural athlete; more like Peggy Bundy on Married with Children than anything. Most of my day involved sitting at a desk for the last ten years and enjoying my bon bons. I also had also survived a bout of ovarian cancer five years previously that involved serious surgery and chemotherapy, and had then gone on to have a baby almost immediately afterwards. My body was not in the best shape of its life. And let me repeat: derby is not easy. This isn’t roller skating in the park. You sweat, you burn, you bruise, and you bleed. This isn’t the fake roller derby of the 80’s, which was more like professional wrestling than a real sport. This is “football on skates,” I was told by Run Amuck’s husband, who had played football in high school. Although I was excited about boot camp, I was nervous, too. Session skates were helping, but I was no Bionic Woman. I’ve always hated the gym, because I get bored so easily. One attraction for derby to me was the knowledge that I’d be getting in shape, while having fun doing it. And derby definitely isn’t boring.

The pressure of boot camp weighed on me, and I hadn’t even started yet. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy getting on a team. BBRG is a WFTDA apprentice league, which means we are close to becoming full members of the Women’s Flat-Track Derby Association, a group of derby leagues that provides a governing body for the sport. It’s a goal that many leagues work toward, and once you’re in, you have a shot at titles, similar to NCAA basketball. But WFTDA also sets the rules for the game, some of which involve minimum skills requirements in order to play. Some of those minimum skills were things I couldn’t practice at a session skate, like hitting or pushing. Despite a full season of NSOing and getting to know everyone, I was still a complete newbie when it came to the actual execution of derby. And BBRG had upped its standards. Long gone were those days when you could show up to a practice and be on the team by the end of the night. They had grown tremendously over the past few years and had become a truly competitive league with two full teams. I was out of shape and running out of time to practice. Would I even stand a chance of passing?