The Unintended Blowback of Roller Derby Burnout, and Why Roller Skating Will Always Rock My World

Roller derby burnout is one of those things you think will never happen to you, because derby is so easy to love.

No fucks were given in the taking of this picture.

Except too much of anything, even love, can have a deleterious effect; too much love can sometimes feel co-dependent and self-destructive.

I do love roller derby, but to be exact, I love roller skating more, and therein lies the rub. Roller skating is at the heart of all this. When I am on skates, nothing can touch me, and though the wind may resist, the sidewalk’s friction slowing me down, I still stride forward, ever faster.

I love the instant whip of my transitions. I love my “crossunder” and how much speed I get from it when I skate backwards. I love to dance and groove and give no fucks when I skate. It’s the closest thing I’ve ever found that compares to Yoga.

Roller derby however, is a manifestation of want and desire, of sporting competition. It is rife with human faults and trappings of ego, and while that can be exhilarating, sometimes it’s more like getting stuck with dirty needle, like oh shit, this sucks and maybe it will kill me. Derby is draining, and you have to either have your life completely compartmentalized to effectively contain it, or you simply need to be so carefree that nothing else matters.

I have been involved with roller derby to some extent for around four years. I’ve taken pictures at bouts, kept score, timed penalties, timed jams, tracked penalties, coached a little, and of course, reffed, I’ve reffed a lot.

For long periods of time, roller derby was a blast, and it felt right, and then it stopped feeling right, and I’d start going to practice and staring off into the distance, not as if I have something better to do, but that I wish I did.

Twas a good day when the reversible hot pink helmet panties arrived.

With me, it really just came down to whether I could be in my skates, but at the end of the night, all I’d done is go around in circles.

Burnout is a personal journey, one of (at least temporarily) letting go, and not everyone understands that. I spoke with a very experienced ex-skater on how it feels and she nailed something that I thought was a glitch in my perception, “people resent you for it, it’s like you’re letting them down.”

It happens though, and suddenly you’re not a presence and thus irrelevant like, “I’m sorry, I know you skate like a total badass, but you can’t sit here!”

I’ve reffed a lot. #norespect

Thankfully, there’s still my skating. I still have my quads and I will skate every freaking day until I’m dead if I can. I will still take my skates with me on trips, any trips, trips to see family, business trips, road trips, whatever, because if there’s a nice gleaming strip of pavement, somewhere, I’m gonna skate the hell out of it.

Yet, I still feel that pull of derby. Maybe it’s just because derby here where I live is so challenged and frankly, poorly accepted. I want to think I’ve made an impact, but it still seems more fractured than ever, with little money, few skaters, and no reliable venues, being just a few of the long lingering problems with derby here (not to mention this long simmering derby feud perpetuated by one of the two area leagues, which makes zero (0) sense to anyone with a brain).

I love my girls. So many feels.

I stumble at this point for some kind of positive idea or way of fixing things — the venue problem, the feud, the money — but there simply isn’t one. If I could snap my fingers and make appear 30, 27/5-ready skaters, I surely would, but this isn’t how it is. I can only urge the girls who want to make derby a career to just move where it actually counts; I only know of one skater from this area who actually got out and did that, and she’s a badass.

Everyone else waits for it to happen to which I quote Beckett, “Nothing happens. Nobody comes, nobody goes. It’s awful.” You see, that’s the funny thing about waiting, it is awful, it gets tiring and drains one’s resolve.

Eventually, I have confidence I’ll get my derby groove back, but for now, skating goes back to being a personal, almost spiritual practice, and fuck anyone who doesn’t understand that.