Join Roller Derby!
Roller derby is an exciting sport with a rich history that's currently enjoying renewed enthusiasm amongst both participants and fans. The sport itself has evolved significantly since its inception and is now a more finely tuned machine than ever before. What was once a co-ed sport is now dominated by women - and these women are quashing all the old-fashioned stereotypes about our so-called "weaker sex."
There are two ways roller derby can be played - on a flat track or banked track - and each has its own association that keeps the leagues and teams organized within. If you've seen the movie Whip It, you saw roller derby being played on a banked track, which is used by the TXRD Lonestar Rollergirls from Austin, Texas - a group that is greatly responsible for the recent rejuvenation of Derby.
The flat track, however, is gaining popularity and seeing an influx of new leagues because it's more convenient to build and move from one location to another (since very few own their own venues to bout). The league that Leslie has joined, the Jersey Shore Roller Girls, who aspire to become a member of the Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), which currently consists of 78 leagues across America.
I chose to write about Leslie because she's a brand new derby girl - known in derby terms as "fresh meat" - and I plan to follow her through her first year of league involvement so anyone else interested in joining will know what to expect. Throughout the article series, I'll also be highlighting other derby girls from around the world, including their tattoo art! While not all derby girls are tattooed and pierced, a large percentage of them are; the Derby and Body Art communities are closely linked and often cross paths.
Leslie is currently going through training and practice and is preparing for the official WFTDA test. Providing that she passes the test, she'll be assigned to a team and will be allowed to choose her official derby name. But even getting to this point has been a test of her dedication to the sport.
While every league is allowed to create their own rules for inducting new players, the Jersey Shore Roller Girls league requires their "Pork Rollers" to show up for every practice during a 6-week period. A single missed practice puts you back at square one and your six weeks starts all over again. Practice is only once a week, which may not sound like a lot, but the girls are worked hard during those practice sessions, learning multiple falls, methods of stopping, and building up their speed and endurance while learning the rules of the game. For Leslie, practice starts at 9 p.m. While many moms are settling in for the night, derby girls are just getting started.
In addition to physical dedication, being a derby girl has more demands. Before you can even attend your first practice, you have to show your license and proof of medical insurance. You absolutely cannot skate with the league without insurance and if you get hurt, you're responsible for your own medical expenses. In addition, you have to pay monthly dues to the league - for Leslie, it's $45.00 a month (that's $540 a year just to play!) plus the cost of her equipment, whether its rented or owned. New skates can cost close to $200; pads and a helmet will run over $100 easily. As if Leslie didn't already have enough on her plate, she just recently took a job to help pay for her Derby expenses. So, why do it?
"I've always been intrigued by strong women - seeing [derby girls] at their bouts, they are the epitome of strength to me. I just need companionship with women of that caliber. I'm not necessarily finding them in preschool playdates and PTO, which I'm very active in for my children, but this is more my own comfort zone to be around strong, supportive women." - LeslieFor many women, derby is literally a love affair. Leslie isn't even on a team yet and she already has such a passion for derby that she's willing to do whatever it takes to stay in, and she's not alone.
"I thought it would be great - and it's even better than I thought. Not many things turn out that way." -LeslieBut derby obviously isn't for everyone, and Leslie wholeheartedly admits that without the support of her husband and kids, there's no way this life would be possible for her. He already knows that once she makes the team, practice is three nights a week instead of one, plus bouts. Leslie won't be there to tuck the kids into bed those nights, and he will have to take over for her when she's away. But while it's a sacrifice on everyone's part in the family, Leslie says they're also her biggest fans. The kids are so proud of her and can't wait to support their mom from the sidelines once she's officially on a team. Derby is definitely a family affair, with many husbands and kids cheering for their ladies on skates.
The next hurdle for Leslie is to pass the WFTDA test, which is later this month. The next article in this series will come in a few weeks. Stay tuned!