How roller derby taught me to be body positive.
I joined Roller Derby in April 2016 and it was the best decision I’ve made in a long while. Before Roller Derby, I detested team sports. That may be too strong a word, but they just weren’t for me. I always felt excluded, not good enough and generally clueless about what was going on. This isn’t the case with roller derby.
Roller derby is a high contact sport played on skates. It consists of 8 players on track, 2 teams, 4 blockers and a jammer on each. Jammers race around the track scoring points for each blocker they pass. Blockers can play offence or defense and block the opposing jammer from passing, while helping their own pass through. Jammers are typically known for their speed and agility while blockers are typically known for their strength.
This extreme sport is dominated by women at present but more men are joining. When people ask me to describe roller derby, I tell them it’s like playing rugby, on skates, without a ball. If high contact doesn’t appeal to you, you can be a referee. You still learn to skate but without the contact. If you don’t fancy being on skates at all, you can sign up to be a non-skating official (NSO). This person helps the team especially with games, by scorekeeping, penalty tracking and so much more. You get a front seat to the derby action without the bruises. Yes, there will be lots of pretty wheel shapes bruises you can show off to your friends and family.
I found out about roller derby through the movie “Whip It” and thought: “Hey, I could be good at this.” So I went in search of roller derby in Cork and came across the Cork City Firebirds. Delighted! I saw they were having a recruitment day and there was no way I was going to miss it.
A big aspect of derby is choosing your derby name. You have the opportunity to reinvent yourself and choosing your name is a long and tough process that can take ages. Sometimes you want your name to reflect who you are. If you want players to think you’re tough and mean take heed from firebird Debbie whose derby name is Debestator! I wanted a name that reflected strength, include my real name and be a pun. I couldn’t come up with one myself, but my team-mate did. Introducing … ArMEGeddon.
Eventually I arrived, slightly terrified, but excited. When I first started skating, I was like a deer on ice, a bit like Bambi. There was no doubt about whether I would join or not, the doubt lied in whether I would stay upright in skates! It’s one thing starting something, but it’s a completely different thing staying with it.
A big factor that motivated me to stay was the change in attitude towards how I feel about my body and the constant continued support from every single firebird. With roller derby, the vibes are different , you feel like you finally belong. You don’t need to be a certain height or weight to excel, every body type is accepted. As firebird Criona (Derby Name: Rainbow Blight) put it: “Roller Derby is filled with an ever amazing array of women and men of all different sizes, shapes, characters, temperaments and backgrounds, which contribute to making every player’s approach and way of playing unique.”
Before I joined roller derby, I had this idea that my thighs were a bit too big, my arms were a bit too flabby, everything generally had something wrong with it, something always had to change. I know that I’m not alone in this thinking, and I know there’s plenty of articles out there telling me to embrace what I have. Are we really going to believe some “inspirational” words written on a computer screen? Are we meant to be in awe of some “life-changing” advice ? Well, I did and I was, for a short while. I would start planning my outfit for my next night out making sure it showed off all my curves because I was now a Goddess. Then 5 minutes later I’d catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and revert back to my normal way of thinking. Don’t get me wrong, I do love what I have already but I couldn’t help feeling that I’d love myself that little bit more if I could change something. That was until I found roller derby.
Shortly after joining, there was a team night out. My friend and I went and we were chatting to the existing members. I’ll always remember being told they were delighted to see us at recruitment day because we weren’t exactly ‘petite’ people. We had a bit more meat and muscle on our bones. The fact that my big legs and flabby arms were needed for a sport was an alien concept to me at first.
How I see myself now is completely different to how I used to. I’m now a fulltime Goddess instead of part time one, even when I’m a big sweaty mess from training. Big thighs mean strong thighs that can be used for balance and holding my position to keep a jammer from passing through. Flabby arms mean opportunity to get a whole lot stronger to knock blockers and jammers off track.
I no longer look at my body as something that needs to be changed or as something that doesn’t fit society’s image of what works and what doesn’t. My focus isn’t on changing something to benefit my aesthetic so that I’m more pleasing for a stranger to look at and comment on. My focus is being the best I can be, because I love what I’m doing, which in turn benefits other aspects of my life, including my physical and mental health. Paula (Derby Name: Punches) summed up roller derby as “such an awesome way of getting fit. It’s so much fun you don’t even realise you’re becoming an athlete until you look down at your thighs of steel one day and think ‘roller derby did that’ and then you air high five yourself.”
I joined roller derby because I wanted to get fit, I stayed because I’ll never have to do it alone.