I will never forget seeing my first roller derby bout: The Cincinnati Rollergirls in action at the Cincinnati Gardens. I watched with a dropped jaw as these amazing female athletes on wheels maneuvered around the track, blocking and beating the hell out of the opposing team with their bodies, allowing their Jammer (the girl with the star on her helmet) to score points.
I was completely taken. Mesmerized. Right then and there I decided I WAS going to play roller derby, in whatever capacity I could. I got on their website to discover they were ramping up a recreational league called the ‘Nati Lites, and that it would be run by the players themselves. Pumped and ecstatic doesn’t even begin to describe the excitement in my heart. I bought my gear, started attending ‘Nati Lite practices, and absolutely fell in love with the sport and everyone in it.
My roller derby adventure lasted nearly two years before coming to a rather unceremonious end. Why, ultimately, did I decide to leave this sport I am still so passionate about? It wasn’t a decision made lightly. I’ve thought about it a lot over the past few months and realize there were several factors.
I kind of really sucked at it.
Roller derby is a game of intense focus and dedication, of skill that you have to work your ass off to develop, and of belief in yourself and your teammates. Your teammates will never give up on you, but if you let self-doubt creep into your head and give up on yourself, there’s really nothing anyone else can do.
It’s one thing to understand the rules of the game and to master the WFTDA Minimum Skills Requirements, but something completely else to execute them on the track while actually playing the sport. For most of the other newbies (also known as “fresh meat”) I’d begun this adventure with, putting it all together finally came with time and practice and sweat and tears. For me? It’s something I simply could not master.
My be-wheeled feet and other limbs refused to do what was inside my brain. My body as a whole did not move where my mind commanded it, and if it did, it always seemed a split second too early or too late. (Timing is everything, and everything in derby happens at breakneck speed — it is FAST AND EXCITING AS HELL, people!)
You will never hear me blame my inability to play well on my age (40 when I started), because I’m in the best shape of my life, y’all. I can’t blame being a former band nerd, or the fact that my only real organized “sport” prior to derby was my high school dance team. I definitely can’t blame lack of training or instruction, because our coaches and training team are out of this world. I understood the rules and what was SUPPOSED to happen on the track; I simply couldn’t execute it well, no matter how hard I tried.
Roller derby takes a certain level of badass.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m no delicate flower.
I willingly got my butt kicked during practice and scrimmages for nearly two years. And what’s more – I loved it. Most veteran skaters will tell you that roller derby finds you at a time in your life when you really need it, somehow. It’s a need both emotional and physical. Roller derby coach and skater Bonnie D Stroir of the San Diego Derby Dolls once said, “Most seem to find roller derby in transitional periods… . We ruin our bodies to save our souls, and for some reason that makes perfect sense.”
For so long, it really did. Any derby player will tell you there is something cathartic about getting a new bruise and watching it slowly heal, only to collect more. There is something soul-soothing about getting the wind knocked out of you and getting right back up for more (and you WILL get right back up – because you HAVE to. Ask any skater — it’s a matter of survival in derby).
I’ve had fat and bloody lips, abrasions from the impact of plastic and velcro slamming against my body, and I’ve fallen and been knocked on my ass over and over. And. I. Loved. It.
But one day, I realized I just wasn’t tough enough to keep it up long-term. This was the humblest conclusion I have ever come to. Coupled with an impending job layoff and some pretty big things going on in my family life, I knew I was no longer able to completely give myself to derby, either mentally or physically. I had somehow fully transitioned into a new phase of life and my heart told me it was time to close this chapter.
Hey, I’m still a badass; I’m just not long-term, roller derby level badass. I am so fortunate to know and admire the few who are.
I had fulfilled my derby goals – and I wasn’t setting more.
Another realization I made after a few weeks of inward reflection was that I had reached the point where I’d met all the derby goals I had set for myself, but I wasn’t adding any new ones to the list. I had spent the entire first year of my new venture mastering the minimum skills so I could become scrimmage-eligible. I was a sponge, and I devoured every bit of instruction I received. I committed each week to conquering a new skill.
Skating backwards began to feel totally natural. I learned to jump on my skates. I realized I could take a hit and not fall down every time. I finally nailed the plow stop. Then I set the ultimate goal of making the team and becoming a Cincinnati Rollergirl. It took me 2.5 tryouts, but I did it!
Shortly after the first bout of our inaugural fall season, I realized I wasn’t setting any new goals. There were SO many things I needed to work on, yet I just wasn’t committing. Then I started making excuses and missing practices. It was time to make a decision, because I wasn’t doing my team any favors by half-assing my efforts and not showing up. I was really disappointing myself and didn’t know how to explain it so that I could talk about it with someone. I sort of just faded from the scene to reflect on it all.
When the MRB (Member Relations Board) called to tell me I had gone inactive due to the number of consecutive practices I had missed, and that I would have to try out for the team again to regain an Active status, I panicked and my heart shattered. What the hell had I done??
I think that’s when I really came to terms with this being the end of my adventure. I ugly-cried like a small child when I changed the profile blurb on my Facebook page from “Cincinnati Rollergirl” to simply, “Lover of roller derby.”
As with any breakup, healing is a process, and I’m still mourning my loss. Still, I only smile when looking back on all that I accomplished.
Things I will never forget about my roller derby adventure:
- Meeting amazing people and forging new friendships. Derby people are like no other people you will ever meet in your life. It was incredible to create so many new friendships and have common goals with these humans. We come from such diverse backgrounds and are SO many things. We are doctors and writers and scientists and artists and teachers and librarians and computer nerds and event coordinators and Photoshop geniuses… yet we still came together to put on a hell of a production, whether skating or announcing, officiating or volunteering.
- Finally achieving the 27/5 (27 laps in 5 minutes) requirement and officially becoming a Cincinnati Rollergirl. It took two tryouts to pass all of my minimum skills, but the 27/5 still eluded me. A few girls were given another attempt to land this milestone before the next tryout and make the team. And I did it! (Alongside my derby wife, Crystal Whip, who I love and miss dearly.)
- Picking my derby name. This is momentous and huge for any new derby player. My derby name went through several iterations, from “Mel on Wheelz” to “Melonious Assault” and finally to “Mel-icious Mischief,” which I shortened during the fall season to simply, “Mel-icious.”
- Picking my derby number, #75. This is every bit as meaningful as a derby name! I kept mine Cincinnati-real by choosing a 7 for Boomer Esiason, who I secretly wanted to marry when I was a little girl and started watching Bengals games with my dad. The 5 is for Johnny Bench of the Reds, whose show “The Baseball Bunch” I watched religiously on Saturday mornings even though I never made it past T-ball. Put them together, and you have “75,” which is also the year I was born. (How’s that for badass?)
- Receiving my game jersey. Tears sprung to my eyes when I held it in my hands for the first time, and I actually slept in the damn thing that night. Not even lying.
- Skating in the 2017 Cincinnati Pride Parade in my jersey, with rainbow socks and flowers in my hair. As I skated alongside teammates and so many people also involved with the CRG organization, I somehow knew then more than ever that I was part of something incredible, and not a thing on this earth could have wiped the smile from my face that day.
- Putting my sparkly silver S-One helmet on for the very first time. For some reason, this event was how I knew I’d come full circle and joined the ranks of those incredible athletes I’d watched at the Gardens just a little over a year before. (Plus, I have a thing for glittery, sparkly things. No, I did not wear the helmet to bed.)
- Making my first CRG roster as an Alternate, again alongside my derby wife. OK, so we didn’t actually get to play, but it didn’t matter. We had made the roster!
- The first time I had my name announced (“Number 75….Mel-icioouuuuuuuuuuuusssssssssss…”). Some veterans have told me they still get chills when they hear their names announced and get to skate out in front of the crowd. There is just nothing better, and I’ll never forget it.
- Jamming for the very first time in my very first bout and landing in the penalty box THREE TIMES in one jam. This goes back to the whole “I can’t seem to put it all together out on the track” philosophy. It was so humbling. And also kind of hysterical. Not all of my derby moments were shining ones, but they are all part of my story, and precious to me.
- The first time I saw live action shots of myself. The CRG photographers are f’ing incredible, and they make you look like you know what you’re doing, even when you don’t, really. (Jason Bechtel and Jeffrey Sevier, thank you, from the bottom of my heart!)
Will I still tell anyone and everyone who will listen to give roller derby a try?
In a heartbeat. And for EVERY SINGLE THING I’ve mentioned above. All of it. For all of the successes and failures one will experience playing roller derby, I guarantee there will not be a single regret.
Roller derby floods your very soul, and your life is never the same. If you’re one of the lucky ones, derby stays there. If you’re like me and come to the heartbreaking conclusion that you have to move on, it remains locked in a fiery, fierce corner of your heart forever. One way or another, roller derby sticks with you. Always.
I know I’ll probably put my skates on again soon and join a Monday Night Derby sesh here and there, but for the most part, I’ve made peace with the fact that my roller derby adventure is over. I’m rollin’ on.