A Little Ditty About Roller Derby

Lead jammer in a roller derby bout, with the Windy City Rollers.

I've been thinking about my wildest adventures, experiences where I not only learned and grew as a human through hard work and grit, but also ones that gave me the most joy.

The years I spent playing roller derby with the Windy City Rollers were definitely some of my brightest and happiest years thus far. So, here's a little derby ditty.

Fun fact, 1: I started off on Windy City Rollers’ fresh meat beginner’s team—the Haymarket Rioters— before being drafted to a home team—the Hell’s Belles— and then rising up as a jammer and blocker on a travel team—the Third Coast.

One of the first bouts I watched as a newbie player, held at UIC Pavilion in Chicago—where I would soon play, was stopped short when a skater was hit so hard by an opponent that it looked like her laced-up-tight skate fell off when she smacked to the ground. Her foot was bent to the side, at a grotesque angle, with the boot still attached.

The strength and determination of a woman who gets severely injured, and then goes right back to the very thing that laid her out, is something I had never seen before. I saw many players return after injury in this sport. The sense of community built by women in derby is so strong, so palpable, it’s easy to see why someone wouldn’t want to bail once they’ve been welcomed inside the fold.

Fun fact, 2: I’m in the Guinness Book of World Records for being part of the longest rollerskating chain in the world.

Fun fact, 3: I was photographed for Chicago’s State Street Photographer Collective Exhibit as well as for a special Derby Life project for photographer, Mary Rafferty Gerstein.

Fun fact, 4: I had the opportunity to be in an insightful documentary about women and body image called Embodies. The film was about three different women—a nude model, an embalmer, and a roller derby player (me)—and their relationships to the human form. The inimitable filmmaker, Hillary Bachelder, followed me around for the better part of a year to film me, my family, and my roller derby practices and bouts. The film was shown in Chicago (Nightingale Cinema) as well as at the Big Sky Film Festival in Missoula, Montana. You can see the Embodies trailer here and the full documentary here.

Embodies, documentary by Hillary Bachelder

*Warning: Mature Content

Roller derby is the most body positive sport that I’ve ever been a part of—every size and shape of a woman is needed on the track to win. Bodies are celebrated for their strength in this game, which creates an environment of acceptance and inclusiveness that goes against the cultural norm for how women are viewed and treated in society. Strong = Sexy, Healthy, Happy.

I was just one year outside of a baby-making bubble—I birthed three boys in four years—when I saw roller derby skaters in a St. Patrick’s Day parade and I knew immediately that this was just the kind of adventure I needed. I played many bouts, almost all of which my boys and husband attended, and when I played the best game I thought I could play (I had been toe-tipping the safety line, and I knew I’d have to go over it and risk injury to get to the next level), I retired.

So, yeah, this is me. I value—and like to write about—women (and men) who work hard, are passionate, attempt something new and put themselves out there in big ways. I think it’s important to push our bodies, sweat, and see what these flesh sacks can do. After all, wouldn’t it be a shame to be in your rocking chair days, without ever having used your body—like really used it? I’m bagging adventures, living a life of enthusiasm where experiences trump material things, and hopefully I’ll have some cool stories to tell my grandchildren one day.