My interest in roller derby developed in 2014 (or maybe 2013) when I discovered that a friend from my younger years had been playing. She goes by Harper Bizarre and she plays for the Rocky Mountain Rollergirls (she’s also an amazing photographer). We attended elementary, middle, and high school together and we were good friends back then. As so often is the case with friends, we drifted far from each other but we have recently reconnected through derby. For that, I am grateful.
I’ve watched Harper develop into beautiful and strong athlete through photos and videos on her social feeds over the years. She’s even got a few sponsors so she must be doing something right. She’s my derby hero. Seeing these amazing athletes play a full-contact sport on roller skates was absolutely thrilling for me. I knew that I would get involved in the sport eventually but I was scared. Terrified.
I’ve never been an athlete. My sister was the athlete growing up and I was book smart. I usually got straight A’s without even trying. I struggled in one or two subjects and had to really buckle down to earn an “A” but overall I was a great student with very little effort.
When I was young, I tried a couple of different sports like community basketball, soccer, and softball. I’m just not athletic and found that I was never one of the top performing athletes. It made me feel awful so I pretty much avoided sports or any kind of real physical activity except gym class until 9th grade. I joined the swim team for one year. I didn’t know how to swim or dive properly when I joined the team and started in Lane 1. Lane 1 was for the worst swimmers — we were segregated so we didn’t mess up the good swimmers. Back then, Central Bucks School District had an unusual number of high performing and record breaking swimmers whose names I can’t recall now.
I got into working out at the gym for a little while during college but it wasn’t for the right reasons. It wasn’t because I wanted to be healthy — it was because I wanted to look super skinny for a boy who told me I wasn’t as “toned” as I used to be. It was stupid and I eventually gave it up.
When I moved from Charlotte, NC to Portland, OR in 2015, I really wanted to try out for the Rose City Rollers. I couldn’t believe that I lived in a city with a roller derby team that good and it felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn from amazing athletes on a highly-ranked team but I was too scared and I was way too busy. I was working at Nike and traveling internationally frequently. I was also working insane hours because the teams that reported in to me were spread out across the US, China, India, and the Netherlands. It just never worked out.
When I moved to Jacksonville in 2016 to work for the PGA TOUR, my work/life balance was finally where I wanted it to be. I was leaving the office at or before 6 PM every day consistently — something I had never been able to pull off at ANY job EVER.
I really wanted to get started with derby right away but wanted to make sure things were solid with my new job first. I also needed to get through my first PLAYERS Championship (May 9–14, 2017) before doing anything crazy. I made it through almost a full year at work and saw a Facebook post indicating Jacksonville Roller Derby would be hosting a recruitment event on May 17th at Skate Station in Mandarin. The time was right. I was going to do the damn thing, finally.
Starting in January, Chris and I went to the rink every Saturday from 10:30–11 AM for skating lessons with Kenny. We were the oldest people there — the class was geared toward kids around 10 years of age. It didn’t matter, we kept going every Saturday. I got comfortable on the rental skates pretty easily but Chris struggled with balance and took a little longer to get comfortable. We learned about proper skating direction, how to fall, how to get up, and how to use toe stops. I had to teach myself about balance, speed, and how to cross-over in the turns. It wasn’t long before I wanted my own skates. Chris surprised me with my very own pair of skates in April — decent Fresh Meat starters!
A few weeks before recruitment night, JRD hosted an information meeting about the league. I walked in not knowing what to expect. I dragged Chris with me for support and to roller skate with me. I walked over and talked to some women with the league, picked up a few papers, and put my skates on. I got on the rink and felt super uncomfortable even though no one was even watching me. I fell hard and was afraid someone from JRD had seen me.
When recruitment night finally arrived, we all sat on the floor and filled out papers with personal and insurance information. We were introduced to the league, the coaches, trainers, skaters, etc. We were not permitted to participate. Instead, we watched the B team practice and I got really excited. We were told to come ready to skate for Sunday practice. I couldn’t believe it — was it really happening? It was really happening.
I met only one other woman who was truly Fresh Meat, like me. We instantly agreed that we would be buddies. All the other women that showed up had been through Fresh Meat training programs before either with JRD or with some other league.
I had only ever watched one bout live before and I hardly understood what was going on while I watched. When I got home that night, I looked to see how the league was ranked and to my surprise, JRD was in the top 10 leagues in the WORLD! Here is a screenshot of the world rankings from earlier today. The old Jacksonville RollerGirls logo still shows on the WFTDA website, but you get the idea.
I showed up to my first Sunday practice on May 21, 2017 ready to work hard. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I knew I was out of shape and would probably puke. I knew my muscles were going to hurt and I would be out of breath. I didn’t care — I was doing the damn thing. I got my skates, pads, and helmet on and got out on the track to warm-up. I had stretched at home but I tried to stretch out on my skates as well since it was part of the warm-up routine. We did some laps and I felt great.
After laps and stretching, we lined up to do a stopping drill. During my Saturday skating lessons, I had never learned any stops beyond dragging my toe stop and smashing into the wall. One of the coaches demonstrated a t-stop. The drill would be to do t-stops using alternate feet at each of the cones setup on the rink. I went from one side of the rink to the other, dragging my right foot behind me. Then, I got really nervous. Just before it was time to do it again, I said to the woman behind me that I wanted to try dragging my right foot again but she re-assured me that we all need to practice with both feet so that we have even skill across both feet. I started to skate and shifted my weight to my right foot so I could start to drag my left foot behind me. I felt searing pain in my right ankle. I was on the floor holding my ankle. I didn’t even try to get up. I knew I was hurt — I thought I had sprained my ankle.
Two coaches helped me up off the rink floor and walked me over to the benches. One of the skaters brought me some ice and I immediately put it on top of my ankle. I sat for a few minutes and thought that I might be able to get back out there in fifteen or twenty minutes. An hour flew by and my ankle got bigger and more swollen. Our Head Coach and another skater drove me home in my car and helped me into the house. They walked my dog and brought the only chair with wheels in the house to my bedroom to I could get to the restroom on my own. They told me to go get my sprained ankle checked out by an orthopedic doctor the next day. They were great — went over and above to get me home. I’m thankful for that.
I called my mom, who lives about an hour away, and asked her to come over to help with the dog. Chris was traveling and I didn’t feel like I could walk the dog without hurting myself more. My mom took one look at my ankle and said, “We’re going to the Hospital.”
When we got to the Hospital, the Emergency Room was empty. I was the only patient. I filled out some forms and went straight to Radiology for an X-Ray. A few minutes later, the doctor came back and said, “It’s broken,” with a completely straight face. I thought he was joking — he wasn’t.
The nurse had to set my ankle and foot into a temporary splint so I wouldn’t move it around before seeing the orthopedic doctor. To set my ankle, she grabbed my leg on my shin/calf area with one hand and grabbed my foot with the other. She bent my foot and quickly crammed it into place and locked the splint around my foot and ankle. Searing pain shot through my entire body and a flash of hot came over me. I screamed and tried to hold back my tears.
When I went to the orthopedic doctor the next day, they took a few more X-Rays with different angles. Things weren’t clear so they sent me for some CT scans. A few days later, they told me I had broken two bones (fibula and tibia) and that my ankle joint was very loose/spread apart. I would need surgery and hardware to hold my bones in place. I prepared mentally and went in for surgery on May 31st.
So much for doing the damn thing. Stay tuned for more updates.