Initiation of a Roller Derby Newbie

By Tonya Lowe

Flashback to February. It’’s a quiet 2 ½-hour drive. Too nervous for conversation, I look out the window and focus on breathing as the landscape flashes by. Our directions are vague – “blue arena behind the general store” -– yet, rolling into the small prairie town of Springbrook, it would be impossible to miss the building. There are lots of other parked vehicles, but no sign of another person.

I’’m anxious and my legs are shaky as I step out of the car. We are surrounded by emptiness and an apocalyptic quiet.

Photo by Rachelle Honeyman.

I reach out to the arena’s dented door, take a deep breath, and pull. There’’s an explosion of sound. The place is bustling and the energy is palpable. We walk by a girl with pink hair who directs us to a crowded locker room. I struggle into my gear with shaking hands; tying laces has never been so difficult. Kneepads, elbow pads, wrist guards: check. Helmet, skates, mouth guard: check. A girl in red leopard-print tights writes my number on my arms with a Sharpie as I continue deep breathing. She looks me in the eye and flashes a smile… there are fangs painted on her mouth guard.

I’’m here. No choice now but to roll out and warm up. It’’s my first real roller derby scrimmage. The other skaters here are Minty Fresh Rookies like me. Add up our shared infatuation for the dynamic sport and our obvious enthusiasm at being in this bleak arena together, and you get a heck of a lot of “derby love.” There’’s friendly chatter and grins as the track fills up. A few laps give a feel for the cold concrete floor. A whistle is blown, a colour assigned and then I’’m huddled together with a group of strangers who will be my team tonight.

Photo by Rachelle Honeyman.

I sit out the first two-minute jam to watch. What I see makes me feel better: this arena may be packed with derby players, but we all need game-play experience. It’’s chaos! No one will get mad if I forget to hold my position, letting the jammer sucker me outside as she slips by on the inside. We’re all rookies here.

Our coach gives a quick pep talk, subduing any lingering doubts about why I’’ve put myself in this position.

Yes: I want to concentrate on the game and learn from my mistakes. Yes: I will go into the fray with a goal (get my jammer through the wall). Yes: I am here to have a good time.

All the nerves roll away as I skate onto the track for my first jam. I line up, hear a whistle, push off, and then it’’s mass confusion for the next two minutes. Each turn I take in the first half of the scrimmage is like “Go! What? Where? Oh, no!” A few jams into the second half: success. I manage to deke a hit and draw a major on an opposing player, sending her to the penalty box. Then I hit their jammer out of bounds before she can complete her lap of the pack! My blue mouth guard flashes a big smile at our spectators.

Photo by Bonner Photography.

I’’ve become involved in the fastest-growing sport around. Li’l ol’ me: not a natural athlete, never into team sports. But something happened when I put on eight wheels. It helps that my fellow home league skaters are incredibly supportive and a great group to spend an evening with. Roller derby is one of the most challenging activities I’’ve ever tried. It’’s also the most fun. Heck,– it was even fun ending the scrimmage in the penalty box!

Pose for photos, give a round of “thank yous” to the refs, and we are back into the car for a chatty 2 ½-hour drive home. With this scrimmage under my belt, I’’m counting the days to our league’’s first bout this spring. I’’m eager for our official debut and nothing can keep me off our home track. I’’ll wave to you in the stands as Bow Valley Roller Derby’’s proud skaters take their intro lap:… it’’ll help calm my nerves before the mayhem begins.

Game 1: BVRD vs. Nightshades (women’s derby) / Game 2: Dreadnaughts vs. Glenmore reservoir Dogs (men’s)

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  1. It all seems like its so much fun! I bet lots of ladies are thinking they’re missing out.