Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Talk Derby to me...




We’re about to hit the 100 day mark on the count down to the Olympics, and sadly I won’t be in the country to see any of it. Even sadder than this is the fact that my favourite sport doesn’t even get a look in on the games. With the aches and bruises still fresh after this weekend’s first practise with my new team, ROKD, I thought now was a perfect time to talk about my obsession with the sport of roller derby. 

 People always go on about those moments that are so life changing that you can always remember exactly what you were doing when it happened. Most of them evolve maybe around meeting a loved one, or perhaps 9/11, and although I do still have a few memories like this, there is another far more dominant memory that I can easily conjure . It’s the memory of when I first discovered roller derby. 

 I was flicking through Nude, a ‘counter-culture’ magazine at my friend’s house in 2008, and they had run an article on the amazing London Roller Girls
The pictures that went along with the piece were of these pretty intimidating, athletic looking girls, covered in tattoos on quad skates. 

At that time I had just graduated and started a 9-5 temporary job. The job turned out to be a rude awakening from the dream that had been 3 years of having 6 hours of lectures a week, which I very rarely managed to make, spending every waking hour on the pursuit of having fun with like minded friends, and drinking. A lot. Needless to say I was feeling out of sorts, spent a lot of my days hanging around in baggy old band tshirts at my then boyfriends house, even though he was out having the time of his life on his BMX, and my friends from uni felt a million miles away. I desperately needed a hobby. So when I left Clare’s house that day I took the magazine with me, and noticed at the end of the article there was mention of a few other teams, the closest being Leeds. 

I got back to said boyfriends house, logged onto Myspace(that’s how long ago it was) and just as I was poised with my fingers hanging over the keys, he burst in and asked what I was upto. I told him and he mentioned that a girlfriend of one of the guys he rode with was trying to start up a team in Sheffield. And that was where my love affair with derby started. 

I can honestly say when I met Pauline, A.K.A Jane Do A Go-Go 49, outside the sticky old skate rink, I never imagined how much things would change. We were 5 or 6 girls, stumbling around on skates, without much purpose. We would wait avidly at the rink every week to see if any new additions would turn up. People came and went but I think nearly all of the originals are still with the Sheffield Steel Rollergirls, hitting harder than ever.

It took a few months to figure out what all this roller derby malarkey was about, 2 jammers racing around a track, being helped or hindered by 4 girls on each side who would try and make life as hard as possible for the opposing jammer.

Thousands of drills, 2 pairs of skates, a PCL ligament tear, handfuls of bouts and one marathon under my belt later and I’m still as in love with the sport as I used to be. 



After all of the knocks, the bruises, the aches in the mornings, the creaky knee, the stinky pads, the laddered tights. The times you’ve been knocked down and feel like you can’t get back up again, but know you have 13 other team mates dependant on you. The frustrating doctors appointments when the only cure they could see for a bad knee would be to just not skate anymore. The times you only have a few more laps to go, but you’re so hot that you can feel your heart beating in your head. The bad moments the photographers catch on camera. The frustrating hours when you’ve tried and tried and tried to perfect a move but it just won’t click. The times you’ve been lured into a trap and see the opposing jammer fly past and know you could have stopped it. The ‘meh’ feeling after a long day at work and knowing you have to strap those skates on. Those moments you wait, down on one knee, with baited breath to see if your team mate will get back up again. The days that are perfect, that are so very rare and precious in England, but it’s practise day and you have to go into the dingy sports hall…I think all of this is justified with the high moments you get from derby. 

High moments such as; taking a knock and staying on your feet, knocking someone else over and knowing that at the end of practise you’ll still be good friends. The moment when you realise that it’s fine to make inappropriate jokes infront of your fellow team mates. Food fights, after parties, house parties, fancy dress parties. Watching your jammer win lead jammer status. A smooth star pass, a perfectly applied tactic. The feeling you get when you feel your team mate’s thigh right next to you, and you know you’ve built a tough wall to break. Watching something you’ve been a part of for years slowly grow and develop. New players that you learn lessons from. Old players that you learn lessons from. Refs that know their stuff. An excuse to buy socks and unseemly shorts. Cupcakes. Wearing the star on your helmet and seeing the jam ref pointing at you. The tense nights spent watching the Derby World Cup. Having something that’s always there to help you keep your chin up, no matter how hard your day, week or month is going. Meeting people from all over the world that you instantly have something in common with. In Jokes, the days when you have nothing to do, but just have to pick up the phone and instantly you have several people with plans that involve you, group work outs in the park, hula hoop lessons, pole dancing lessons. The amazing photos the photographer catches that you know you will keep forever, and show your family with pride when you’re old and arthritic and they refuse to believe that you once spent most of your time knocking others down. 

They always say that you should never look back, but derby is the exception, not only to catch that sneaky jammer, but also to reflect on all the lessons learnt and places visited because of it. For me the sport has opened so many doors, and closed a few that I perhaps wouldn’t have had the strength to close if I wasn’t part of the derby community. I’ve met some people along the way that I think I’ll always be close to, no matter where they end up. I’ve moved half way around the world with a friend who was a complete stranger to me only a few years ago. I pretty much have to thank Pauline and her determination to start a team in Sheffield for one of the best gifts anyone has ever given me. Mwah! x



** I also wanted to add a big thank you to Jason Ruffell, the main culprit of those aforementioned amazing and awful pictures that he always seems to take when you're least expecting it. You can see more of his work here.