“We were all there once – I promise it gets easier.”
I’m sure these words ring in the ears of new roller derby freshies everywhere, as veterans of the sport try to reassure them that the challenges they are currently facing will someday be a distant memory. Basic skating skills like staying upright, achieving 27 laps in 5 minutes, and even stopping, seem like impossible hurdles to a new skater. Getting up the courage to even show up to an intake takes a lot of nerve, but as I quickly learned, it is a decision you won’t regret.
I first attended a GTAR Fresh Meat drop in night this past September. I’m not really sure how I first learned about roller derby, but when I moved to Toronto 3 years ago, I knew that I wanted to play, despite having zero experience on roller skates. After years of making excuses and being “too busy”, I went out and bought myself a Fresh Meat package. I figured once I had committed to spending the money on gear, I had no choice but to at least try it out! I’m shy to begin with, so the thought of strapping on roller skates and falling on my butt in front of strangers sounded like a nightmare – but I was pleasantly surprised. During the intake I learned a few skating basics such as falls, stride, and proper derby stance. Everyone from GTAR was super friendly and encouraging, so I decided I would enter the Fresh Meat training program.
Over the next 4 months, I skated as often as possible, as I tried to learn the necessary skills needed to pass the dreaded Minimum Skills Test (required to actually start scrimmaging and playing roller derby). At first it felt like I would never be able to learn, but each time I successfully completed a new skill, I was filled with great pride and motivated to learn more and more! When the time for the actual test came, I was feeling confident in my ability to pass. You can imagine my disappointment when I failed to stop in a pack (stopping being a skill I had struggled with since the beginning), and could not pass immediately with the rest of my Freshie friends.
I refused to get discouraged and with the encouragement of the league, re-tested and passed! This was one of the happiest moments in my short roller derby career! I was now eligible to start ‘Fit to Scrimmage’ training, and to get integrated into team scrimmages during practice. Now it was time to actually learn how to PLAY roller derby, which was way more complicated than I was expecting, especially considering I had never even watched an actual game before. Derby has a lot of rules and requires a lot of strategy. Learning these things while you are receiving HARD hits and trying to stay upright is very overwhelming, but it’s really fun too!
Like most Freshies in our league, I was drafted to the Derby Debutantes. My first official game came two months after passing minimums, against ORG’s Pulp Affliction in Orangeville. Sadly, the Debs lost by a considerable number of points, but I still felt on top of the world! It was the first real game for about half of us, so it was an amazing learning opportunity, and helped me establish a lot of short term and long terms goals for myself.
Since the Orangeville game, I am continuing to push myself hard in practices, attend scrimmages with other leagues as often as I can, and watch lots of roller derby in an effort to improve my skills. The more involved I get in roller derby, the more I can’t help but wonder “What did I do before this?!”… It has become such an important part of my life. I still have my moments where it feels like I’ll never really ‘get it’, but then I remember how far I have already come! Every time I put on my skates I learn something new; it’s exciting to experience the progress, even though it doesn’t happen as quickly as I would like sometimes. When I do have moments of self-doubt, I know I’ve got amazing new friends in the derby community who will remind me that even the best players were once Fresh Meat too, and that we’ve all got things that we want to improve on.
I think that that is one of the BEST parts about roller derby: there’s always new things to learn and improve upon, whether it be skating skills, learning game strategy, or even developing new ways to promote your league and get new people out to bouts. I am so grateful that I have made roller derby a part of my life, and can’t wait to see where it will take me next!