A: Since I could walk, I’ve been hell on, and off, wheels.
At age 2 my mom enrolled me in tiny tots tumbling class. I promptly tumbled, all right: off the trampoline, beyond the reach of the safety barrier, and ass first onto the hard concrete floor. As the adults gasped, I immediately proceeded to get up and demand to do it again.
About that time I also got my first hand-me-down big wheels. The toy’s low profile made it perfect for rolling under tables or taking some hapless adult out at the shins.
From there I graduated to full-fledged big kid bikes: banana seats, streamers, cards in the spokes. Growing up with a large extended family meant I always had some bike or other to scar myself with.
At age 4 I started ballet; at age 6 was cheerleading, and onward until I turned 18 and the gates of heaven opened up for me in the form of the dark cave in downtown Providence where bands played and I discovered: the mosh pit.
Bruises, contusions, concussions, boots marks, bite marks, and the occasional grope. I surfed the crowd at Pearl Jam, got sweated on by the Rollins Band, punched a skinhead at the Pumpkins – and immediately denied it – got into a fistfight at Fuel, and suffered many a tongue lashing from the enduringly uptight Ian MacKaye.
It makes sense, then, that my acrobatic and aggressive natures would collide.
For those of you not versed in the thoroughly modern game of roller derby, it’s a knock-down, drag out game that requires a lot of skill. You have to remain upright, on skates (a skill I have yet to perfect, or even comprehend) …
while keeping those around you from knocking you down;
while simultaneously trying to knock them down;
while looking behind you for your jammer and opposing jammer, who YOU are trying to help through the pack and knock the hell out of, respectively.
In a nutshell, 10 women take the track — eight are blockers. They comprise the pack.
The two front skaters are called pivots — they control the speed and call the shots.
The last two skaters are jammers — they take off a few seconds after the pack starts to roll, and their job is to get through the pack.
Not so easy, and it’s not that simple.
They must avoid getting knocked down by each other as they zoom toward the pack; they must avoid getting knocked down by the rear blocker, whose whole job is to stop them from getting into the pack; they must avoid getting the crap beat out of them once they get in the pack.
And once they’re in the pack, they’re not allowed to hit back.
Their job is to score points — one point for each opposing team member passed, but, they don’t actually start to accrue points until they make their way through the pack… the second time.
That’s right: Get through the pack. Skate like hell. Go through again… Maybe.
Thing is, a lot of attention has been, and is being paid, to the fact that derby women have lots of tattoos and piercings and wear punk rock clothes and fishnets. But, that’s not the whole story, and that’s not the big story.
The truth is you’ve got women from 18 to I’m-not-telling who have jobs, husbands — or wives — kids, pets and outside lives. And we are all invested in one thing: beating the shit out of each other, and having a lot of fun while doing it.
Roller derby is no longer the post-’80s purple spandex Mad Max meets Madonna big-haired spectacle — the game is now all-girl and played — like skateboarding before the Boom Boom Huck Jam whore-down or skiing before the media tore Bode a new one — Just. For. Fun.
And I mean really, where else can someone my age get knocked down without suing someone, or worrying about breaking a hip?