Roller Derby: Why We Skate

Roller Derby: Why We Skate

Three practices a week at two hours each. A 45-minute commute each way to practice, and five to 10 hours a week on volunteer things. That’s 20 hours of just roller derby stuff each week.

It’s fair to say this is a minimum for many of the tens of thousands of women that play roller derby today.

That’s a lot of time out of lives, where many are working full-time jobs or going to school, not to mention the growing number of those with families. After all of that, none of us are getting paid. So with all that time spent, why the heck do we do it?

For some roller derby is a new way to get fit or to make friends. For many, it becomes an obsession. For many more it’s a new way of life. Allow me to explain.

As we grow older, many people get real jobs and real relationships. Life becomes complicated. For some, roller derby is the one aspect of their lives where they can have a set goal and see results fast. This could be learning a new stopping technique, getting faster, building muscle, losing fat or even having the gall to wear leggings in front of a crowd of more than 2,000 people, which leads nicely to my next point.

There’s a certain shedding of insecurities once you fall – a lot – in front of lots of people. It’s a great metaphor for life: just get back up and kick ass; no one will care. In a volunteer-run organization like the Windy City Rollers, one’s voice is heard. Don’t like how something’s being done? Speak up. Join a committee. Put in the time. Get shit done. Make it happen. Again, this is one of the few places to have this kind of influence and a forum to make change happen.

Photo by Gil Leora
Roller derby gives you the confidence to wear fabulous leotards in front of thousands of fans.
(Photo by Gil Leora)

Roller derby is my gym, but it’s not the only thing I do. Like any other athlete we need to maintain healthy diets and cross-train with weight training, running, yoga or cross-fit. Some estimate a skater can burn about 1,200 calories during a two-hour practice. That alone requires a well-maintained and well-nourished body.

We’re all in this together, and we’re all in it for the same thing. In a group of more than 80 people, you’re bound to connect with someone. Roller derby is the most varied and rich network of people I’ve ever encountered, and with that we’re all able to source life’s necessities without relying on Google or Yelp. Need an accountant? We have a few. Need a website for your new business? We have developers. Need advice or a recommendation for a physician? Between our many skaters who work as nurses and our medical staff, you’ll find what you need.

In the end, it’s really simple. It’s fun to skate fast and block people. It takes a lot of training to do it well and safely, and it takes a lot of extra time away from family and friends to promote and produce the bouts. But it’s the little pay-off bonuses that keep you going: seeing yourself improve your skating and blocking skills because you pushed yourself in practice, learning a new business or marketing skill from committee work, or having a little girl approach you after a game for an autograph. We’re making change happen – for ourselves and everyone we touch. And that’s fun.

That’s why we play roller derby.

Follow @KimElsham

Kimberly Elsham is a member of the Manic Attackers and the Windy City Rollers All-Stars.

She is also a master's candidate at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and has written for the Chicago Sun-Times, Patch and Pioneer Press.

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