For two years of college, I played Division 1 field hockey. In April of 2008, my team was eliminated from the university due to severe budget cuts. Some of my teammates decided to transfer, I went abroad, and one of my teammates decided that she wanted to play rugby. The women’s rugby team was comprised of some of my closest friends in college and their toughness and dedication to the sport was contagious. After returning from abroad, I spent many of my weekends traveling to go watch their matches. I had become somewhat of a women’s rugby team groupie. But as much as I admired their toughness and dedication, each time they asked me if I’d join the team, I’d still respond with a tremendous no.
And there was one reason why. When it comes to big–I mean BIG bruises,I’m a cryer. And if anyone knows the sport of rugby, they know that it’s not a sport you can get knocked down and cry in.
Even though field hockey was also intense and a bit of a contact sport (when the ref turned her back), it didn’t intimidate me the same way that rugby did. Maybe it was that I had played field hockey for eight years and I understood the game–or maybe it was because each time I saw my rugby friends they had new bruises–new BIG bruises. Whatever it was, I had made a very firm decision in college not to join the rugby team even though I had more respect for my friends who played than anyone could imagine.
So recently, when a member of the Two Rivers Roller Derby team from New Jersey/Pennsylvania reached out to me and offered me a chance to be an honorary member for a day, I froze. Roller Derby, like rugby, involves a lot of contact–A LOT of contact. The women and men who play roller derby are tough. They endure hip checks and shoulder checks; they take on big hits, and they risk getting thrown off their skates each second of play. Basically, like rugby, the sport doesn’t have room for cryers after a big hit. It only has room for the skaters who want to be there, who can handle getting knocked down, and who are ready to get hit again only seconds later. I hesitated before I responded to the member of the Two Rivers team and I started an internal dialogue with myself.
“Libs…you can’t say no. It’s kind of your rule.” –“No, no but rules are meant to be broken.” — “Come on you know you secretly want to…” And before letting my other half respond with something negative, I typed an email out to the Two Rivers Derby girl saying I’d absolutely love to try roller derby, that it had been on my list for a while (it had been–in order to get over that fear of being intimidated by these contact sports), and that I would make it work with my schedule in New York City to make it back to Pennsylvania and test out the waters.
Leading up to the roller derby experience, some of my friends in New York warned me to be careful, and my co-workers created a text code for if I broke any bones: “Text me 511 for a broken leg and 411 for a broken arm…” All the build up was making me itch with nervousness. Part of me really didn’t want to do it–but I’m not one to cancel.
But less than two months after receiving my invite to come out and try the sport, I had picked out a roller derby name (The Yellow Rimmed Nightmare) and I was lacing up a pair of quads at a small-town roller rink on the border of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Photo Credits: Aubrey Van Wyk
As the team stepped into contact drills, I watched nervously chewing my mouth guard.
One of the coaches asked two people to come out to form a block and one person to be a jammer. As this happened–I began to ask questions.
“Block? Jammer” What do these words means????
It was then that I picked up the basics of the game–the BASICS:
In roller derby, five people from each team are on the rink at a time. One person is called a jammer–He or she can score. Three people are blockers–and one is the pivot. (A pivot directs the blockers–guides the pack). The jammer’s goal is to lap the blockers of the opposing team. You do this by breaking through their blocks, getting around, or jumping over them. You can’t elbow/push, but you can hip check/shoulder check etc. For each lap after the first initial breaking of the block–you get a point. There are two 30 minute halves in which the team plays a series of 2 minute rounds. After 2 minutes, there’s a 30 second break to sub players on or off: then you go 2 minutes again, until the half is over.
After getting my mini lesson in the goal of Roller Derby, I continued to watch. One of the girls then turned and asked me: “Are you scared?”
I faked it: “No. I’m good. No worries.”
She smiled and said “Good!”
Then I added “No. I lied. yes. I’m scared.”
I continued to bite my mouthguard.
“You’ll be okay,” one of the girls called over to me.
“Could you see it in my face?” I asked
She smiled: “Ha-Yah, but don’t worry –you’ll be fine.”
And I was.
I managed to make it through the night of practice without falling and without bruises–and most importantly without shedding any tears. In fact, I ended up leaving that night wanting to play more–wanting to be back in the rink–or on a field playing any team sport. For a good amount of time since the field hockey team got cut in 2008, five years in fact, I’ve strayed pretty far from the team sport train. I’m not sure if it’s because it was too painful to lose the one sport I worked for, for most of my life at that point, or because I was ready to taste other adventures–but this felt good. It felt good to be skating circles around a rink with a constant push of positive reinforcement as I completed one lap after another during the endurance part of the evening. And it felt even better to give pounds and high fives when others did well, and it felt the best when I had the opportunity to cheer the women on the following night as they played hard in an open scrimmage.
The truth is: we can spend our whole life being terrified of something that we haven’t given a chance–or we can have the courage to say we are going to do something–and then have even more courage to go out and do it–and then realize just how much we were missing all along.
Two Rivers Roller Derby Team