Just keep roller skating: Surviving the path to bout night

The Fresh Meat wake-up call

Not all derby girls were born skating

Fresh Meat serves up an extra-large slice of humble pie. We gasp for air during endurance drills and struggle to stay upright on quivering, burning thighs. Learning new skills can be maddeningly frustrating, and scrimmage hits are sobering in their intensity. Watching expert team skaters warm up after us makes their world seem a million miles from ours—unattainable.

Although all team members work hard to be derby ready, some came into the sport with a skating background, already lean and fit, or as lifelong jocks.

For others however, those early practices were like climbing Mt. Everest in a pair of roller skates while dragging a corpse. Each forward step meant conquering the seemingly unconquerable—their own doubts and fears.

“Roller derby is challenging at every level,” says team skater Frisky Sour, who once had to hold onto the wall to stand up on her skates. “If it’s not, you’re doing it wrong.”

Sugar says to work on improving in small increments

Sugar & Vice: Derby will punch all your buttons

“When I first started four years ago I was 270 pounds and could only skate two laps before I became winded and had to sit down,” says Sugar. “I have never played sports and had been sedentary most of my adult life.”

While most Fresh Meat members are drafted onto team within a year, Sugar & Vice spent two and a half years working to become bout ready. Watching others advance beyond her brought crushing discouragement, but she refused to surrender.

“Derby will punch all your buttons,” says Sugar. “You have to work your shit out, push farther than you though you could go physically and mentally, but remember you’re doing it because it’s fun.”

The derby “crash diet”

Derby requires heaps of strength and stamina. Skate practices can last for hours and skaters are expected to train outside of practice. This regime has become the derby “crash diet” for more than one derby girl, not only transforming her body, but also unveiling her inner warrior.

Heidi says to work on building strength

Heidi Go Seek: Number 210

“My team number is 210 because that’s how much I weighed when I began,” says Heidi Go Seek, who is now a trim and athletic team skater for the High Rollers. “I was so out of shape I used to show up for practice with ice packs in my leg warmers.”

Heidi says doing well at derby isn’t about how much you weigh. It’s about how hard you’re willing to train and develop your skills. “The best thing you can do is develop your strength,” she says.

Giv'er says to work on form to get better at endurance

Giv’er No Quarter: Don’t compare yourself to others

Giv’er No Quarter also tipped the scales at more than 200 pounds when she first began derby. “I didn’t realize I was so out of shape,” says Giv’er. “I’m currently 164 pounds, I’ve gained a lot of muscle and lost many inches but it has taken me over a year to get to where I am today. And I am still not done.”

One of her key strategies is refusing to compare herself to others. “There will always be people that are better then me, but I don’t look to them to compare myself to,” says Giv’er. “I look at myself and figure out what I need so I can push myself.”

Skin says to wrap your raw feet in tea bags

Skintastic Dynomite: I am stronger than I have ever been

When Skintastic Dynomite began in roller derby, she could barely stand up on her skates and she was 53 pounds heavier than she is now. Her body hurt constantly in the beginning, her feet were always raw, and she struggled with discouragement.

“There were plenty of times I went home crying for not being drafted or for being yelled at and I wanted to quit,” says Skintastic. “But there was a core group of us ‘big girls’ that supported each other. Sometimes we were discouraged because other skaters were faster and smaller and got the strategy better. But being a woman who is always up for a challenge I kept going.”

Napalm Beth: “I can”

Napalm says to examine your belief systems

Napalm Beth started out weighing about 200 pounds and the last time she skated pre-derby her skates had metal wheels.

“I hadn’t done anything exercise related in over a decade, and had never played sports,” says Napalm. “I got discouraged all the time and still do. But I realized that the only thing holding me back is my belief that I couldn’t do something. I am making a conscious effort not to use the word “can’t” anymore. I can become a jammer, I can learn that new strategy, I can switch from offense to defense in a heartbeat.”

F-bomb: Beating injuries

Different players grapple with different challenges. For some it’s extra weight or poor physical condition. For others it’s asthma or anxiety attacks. And derby being what it is, injury has weeded out its fair share of potential players.

F-Bomb says resolve to work past injuries

“People don’t tell the new skaters about the mental game of playing roller derby,” says F-Bomb, Rose City Rollers’ vice president. “Some skaters can’t deal with being injured and end up quitting, some push through it because they love the sport.”

F-Bomb suffered a fracture that required major surgery and months off of from practice, a devastating blow to her confidence and her shot at making a team that had her crying for days. Yet she used her disappointment to fuel a fast recovery and was drafted three months later, although the chronic pain from her surgery sometimes pulls her out of drills. Since then she has torn knee ligaments twice, losing more precious time from a sport she loves.

“Did I think about quitting? Definitely,” says F-Bomb. “Was it an option? No way. Derby is a part of who I am.”

Sorry but it never gets easier

Making it onto a team is the shiny brass ring that compels the newbies forward when their bodies beg them to stop. Turns out getting onto a team is no grand prize, it’s just another step on a long, arduous, but extremely rewarding derby journey.

Frisky Sour: Just keep roller skating

Frisky says the improvement will come

When Frisky Sour started she could barely skate. She has since made it onto a team, yet her path is hardly free of hurdles. Not making it onto a travel team, keeping the bench warm during jams, not making the roster, getting injured—they’re all part of the mix that makes a turn on the track in front of an audience all the more precious.

Frisky’s advice is to just keep showing up at practice and partcipate in every drill to the best of one’s ability. The improvement will come.

“The people who don’t make it are the people who look outside themselves to see why they’re not improving or being drafted,” says Frisky. “There’s always something to blame. Just keep roller skating.”

Photos by Sharkey//masonite.burn@gmail.com

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About Dark Side of the Womb

Sheela-na-Gig is a Fresh Meat skater for Portland's Rose City Rollers.