The last time I went roller skating was about 20 years ago when a group of us went to live organ music night at Oaks Park. We didn’t fit in so well with the older couples dressed in matching outfits swirling around the glossy floor with grace and ease. We were young and clumsy and probably laughed too loudly. We ended up leaving early because they got uncomfortable with the unprotected metal of our friend’s prosthetic arm. What if she fell and scraped up their fine wood rink?
The Rose City Rollers wouldn’t come into existence for another ten years after that incident, but as I settled into my bleacher seat and watched the teams move through their warm-ups last night– a sea of hot pink lycra, big black knee pads and glittery silver helmets — I thought about how great it would have been if our friend could have left behind the Lawrence Welk set at one rink, walked across the parking lot and joined this team instead. She would have kicked ass at derby.
If you’re a Rose City Roller you kick ass. I can’t see how you survive otherwise. And maybe you kick ass because you’re a tiny, speed demon. Or maybe because your six feet tall and can jump over and around anyone in your path. Or maybe you’re solid, determined and unmoveable. The skills you have to have just to circle the rink in a pack are formidable. Add in the obstacles of elbows and shoulders and hips, the scream of whistles, and the inevitable face plant down the backside of another skater and onto the floor, and it becomes clear what kind of mettle you need to do derby.
I sat with my friend who was with me that night 20 years earlier. We were both fully enthralled by the chaos and crushed out on more than a few of the skaters. Meanwhile, all around us were average folk. Because here’s the thing, hipsters don’t go to roller derby. This was the first thing I noticed about the brightly lit hangar, circled with bleachers and blasted with a weird mix of Miley Cyrus, Black Sabbath and the Village People. Grandparents go to roller derby. Mothers and fathers dressed in team colors go to roller derby. Little girls with pom poms and teenagers with braces go to roller derby. Men without moustaches and women in tan clothes go to roller derby. I guess derby has seen its popularity come and go and now that it’s no longer cool, it’s that rare, wonderful thing. It’s completely genuine.
I’ll definitely go back. If I have to be a sports fan, I choose derby.