My derby journey really began when my mom, Bear-a-Cuda, began fresh meat bootcamp in February, 2014. I was away at college in Kalamazoo, but whenever we spoke on the phone she would tell me about the news skills she was learning and how much fun it was. I thought it was awesome my mom had a hobby because she was beginning to experience “empty nest syndrome” and I thought it was a good thing she had something in her life other than focusing on her children growing up. We would talk about how cool it would be if I played derby, too. I never really thought I could because I was a full-time student and I worked two jobs and, oh yeah, I had never rollerskated in my life. However, I knew there was something missing. I was bored. I had always played team sports growing up and I loved it. I loved the common goal teammates emphasize of working hard and winning. The closest thing I got to team sports in college was beer pong. I needed more. I needed a thing, something that would challenge me and excite me. I didn’t know then that it would be roller derby.
Fast forward to Easter, 2014. I moved home to finish up college and was once again finding myself bored within my small hometown. My mom was preparing for her skills test. She brought out her skates and just for fun I decided to try them on out in the driveway. It was awful. My feet instantly cramped up, I couldn’t stand without someone lending me a hand, and then I continued to cling onto that hand as I took baby steps. I thought, “how can I play derby if I can’t even stand in skates?” Just standing there terrified me. What if I fall? What if I broke something? What if, what if, what if. But, through all the what if’s and the pain in my feet and the fear of falling, I was hooked. I decided I was going to be a roller derby girl and I was going to join the Wave 9 fresh meat bootcamp in September. Shout out to you, Mom (Cuda) for getting me hooked!
That summer I bought my first pair of rollerskates; the cheapest around town. I bought even cheaper gear and a mouth guard and I would go to my high school’s parking lot and “skate.” I looked absolutely ridiculous and I knew it. I was like a 6-year-old in all of my gear taking wobbly steps that didn’t even count as “skating.” I was so terrified to fall down because the cement was rough and I didn’t think I would get back up. But I did it. Every couple of nights I’d go to that parking lot and “skate.” Sometimes, my mom would join me. At times I would get so frustrated with her because she would be skating laps around me so smoothly and there I was trying to just glide without losing my balance. I wanted to give up so badly, but I wanted to skate like her, I wanted to be good at something. So I set my mind to doing so..
September came around and Wave 9 fresh meat bootcamp began. I was so excited and so nervous, but I wanted to finally skate and meet cool people. I walked into The Mint as confidently as I could and so began my fresh meat journey. I learned new skills, I met new people, and I had a blast. I even joined a Crossfit class and found myself becoming stronger. My attitude about everything in my life was great and I felt amazing. I had a purpose other than waking up, going to school, and going to work. I had such an itch for derby. Anyone who has put four wheels under their feet, who has fallen hard and gotten back up, who has the urge for their teammates to hit them harder, knows how the derby itch feels.
There were some setbacks. I didn’t pass my skills test. I knew it as soon as I left The Mint that night and I drove all the way home crying. Even though I was sad, I took that heartbreak and turned it into fuel for the next month in preparation for my second chance skills test. I worked hard, and I passed my second chance. This time, there were tears of happiness and accomplishment. I did it! I was a skills-passed skater. The itch grew stronger, and I decided I wanted to take it the next step and try out for a team. I wanted to be a Vigi.
However, life doesn’t always work out the way you want it to. Life outside of derby got in the way of this goal. The Vigilantes had tryouts soon after I had passed my skills test, but I wasn’t able to tryout because of school. It was tough to see my Wave 9 friends move onto the Vigis and I had to stay behind. I wasn’t able to attend Vigi practices for a while because of work. I had classes and was just about to graduate college and had to put my focus on other things. When I graduated in May, other responsibilities required my focus yet again, like two new jobs I had just started. I started thinking, “derby shouldn’t be this hard for me. I’m 22 years old, I don’t have kids, I’m not married, I don’t have ~adult~ responsibilities quite yet.” I wasn’t feeling that itch that I had before, because life wasn’t allowing me to. But life is weird and it is constantly changing and I was able to attend practices more than I had been able to. I began to get that itch again. I began attending the Vigi practice regularly and fell in love with the team atmosphere. These were my kind of people, and this was my kind of skill level. I wanted to be a part of this team so badly.
The next few months are kind of a blur. I worked hard in Crossfit and attended practices and scrimmages. I talked about derby constantly, mostly with my mom over a beer, about things I needed to improve on. Before I knew it, it was time for tryouts for the 2016 season. For the most part, I had a good attitude about it. But I also felt like puking. I didn’t think the tryout went well at all, and when it was over, all I could think was, “that wasn’t enough time. I’m not done showing you what I can do!” It was over and it was time to wait.
A few people who had tried out got beers after tryouts to calm our nerves. On the drive home, my mom received the text: “The Vigis are calling for SMASH duty.” I knew she would make it; my mother is so dedicated to this hobby that it has become a lifestyle for her. We were excited, but I kept constantly checking my phone. I didn’t have to wait long; I received the same text minutes after my mom did. I instantly began crying. I had made it. I had made the team I had dreamed about being on. I was going to be playing competitively. I was going to be playing with some awesome teammates. I was going to be teammates with my mom.
This journey of mine isn’t over. I have accomplished many goals throughout my short time of being a derby girl, but I have many, many more. Becoming a Vigilante was the toughest one I’ve had yet to accomplish, both physically and mentally, but I know that I have grown from this experience. I will be knocking out my derby goals for years to come because I plan on playing this sport until I no longer can. I have so much love for derby because of the fuel it gives my soul and the passion I quickly found while playing this sport. The supportive people, the feeling of flying on your toe-stops, the sound of Velcro before every practice, the quick nerves after the NSO yells “five seconds!” during scrimmage, it fuels me. The itch will always be there.
Smax L. Rose is a 23-year-old Vigilante who enjoys snuggling with her Great Dane, listening to Guns N' Roses at loud volumes, and drinking beer.