Roller Derby Is Therapeutic

Roller derby calms me. Yes, I said it calms me. Let me explain.


First, some backstory...


I first heard about the Ann Arbor Derby Dimes back in 2010, when it was being founded. I was very interested in giving derby a try then, but I wasn't able to make the commitment just yet.

Derby stayed in the back of my mind-it is one of those things I just had to try during my lifetime, like surfing and visiting Macchu Picchu and going on echo tours around the world and perhaps jumping out of a plane. No, I'm not a huge thrill seeker, not in the sense of scaring the bejesus out of myself anyway, but there just are certain things that I HAVE to try. And, derby was one of them. I was naturally drawn to it by mysterious forces. :)

During the winter of 2014, I saw a posting about the league's upcoming boot camp that was starting in March. I felt that NOW is the time to give this a shot. NOW is the time to get involved. I wasn't too busy. I was mentally ready for it. I was able to commit the time on and off the track. I was EXTREMELY excited to do this!

I contacted the Dimes three weeks before boot camp started to get the low-down on what it involves and all that. They sent me a ton of info.... all I needed to know to get started.... even where to buy all of my gear. I then went out and got everything I needed just a few days before the Raw Meat session that I attended, to see if I wanted to continue into boot camp (as if there ever was a doubt). I've been a sports playing junkie most of my life and have played several organized sports throughout the years (basketball, softball, baseball, ice hockey, roller hockey, indoor soccer, vintage base ball), and I enjoy cross-country skiing, snowboarding, downhill skiing, rollerblading, biking, kayaking, hiking, waterskiing, jet skiing, other water sports, etc. I grew up roller skating in rinks and worked in a roller rink when I was in high school. I spent countless hours skating and playing tag and having fun on quads with my sister and cousins and friends.... something that, at the time, I had no idea would heavily contribute to me playing derby in the future.

Fast forward to July. I had made it through four and a half months of boot camp with my sister and fellow Wave 8 buddies, and I passed my skills test at the end (something that is required by WFTDA, Women's Flat Track Derby Association, the international governing body of women's flat track roller derby). I had been watching my sister Dimes playing in bouts since April 2014 and had been watching other teams' bouts on WFTDA TV. I was so ready to move on to the next level.... to get in there and battle it out on the track! I had a hard time sitting in the stands and watching while volunteering at Dimes' bouts, because when I really like something, I want to be doing it and have a hard time containing myself when I'm not able to yet. I was salivating over the idea of bouting!

So, how is roller derby therapeutic?

Now, you're probably wondering how in the heck roller derby can be therapeutic, right.... and who in their right mind would even consider wanting to play such a thing? To the non-derby playing person, it looks absolutely terrifying, chaotic, confusing, traumatic, disorganized, brutal.... and down right insane. Well, it is considered an extreme sport and is right up there with other extreme sports. I like to say that it's kind of like rugby on skates, without the ball, of course. It's very physical, hard core, intense, exhausting. It involves hitting (legal hitting), being pushed and shoved, blocking, jamming, running on skates, juking, tripping and falling, getting knocked down, getting bumped, bruised, and scraped, agility, quickness and speed, endurance, and TONS of sweat. It involves receiving lots of penalties and infractions. It does involve some level of chaos and disorganization. And, it involves a pack mentality... stick together and go after the opposing jammer to knock her out of bounds and to keep her from passing the pack and hit those opposing blockers, so that our jammer can skate through the pack. It also involves bruised egos.

Yes, roller derby can be brutal, and it's very challenging. But, it's a very satisfying type of challenge.... to those of us who crave that level of toughness. The thing is, though, that we go through hours and hours of detailed and intense training before we are even allowed to begin scrimmaging and bouting. Boot camp is 18 weeks long.... practices two days a week for two hours each time. After we've passed the halfway mark, we are allowed to start attending team practices and can participate in anything that we've covered in boot camp up to that point. Boot camp focuses on all kinds of skills... things that you never would dream that you'd be expected to learn and do on skates. I remember thinking a lot, "We have to do WHAT?" and "Are you kidding me?" There were a number of things I already was able to do, because of my experiences of roller skating all the time while growing up and because of playing many different sports, especially the ones involving some sort of skating. But, there were so many new skills as well..... and I LOVED every minute of learning them (OK.... maybe not EVERY minute... there were times when I said some colorful words to myself). And, then there as the fitness factor. I had played ice hockey the whole winter before starting boot camp, but I certainly wasn't close to being in derby shape. It totally kicked my butt for about the first two months of it. I finally felt like I reached the top of the mountain and was beginning the climb down about halfway through it. Then, you have to train for about a month and a half to two months more in team practices and scrimmages, before you can bout for real.

You're probably still wondering where the therapeutic part of derby comes in.

Well, I feel calm and relaxed after playing derby, and this carries into the next day and beyond (derby still is new to me, so this is something that I just started experiencing and realizing). I get an adrenaline kick out of it, and that also carries into the next day. Playing derby, or derbying, as we like to call it, burns off a ton of energy. It requires and demands focus. As I've already stated, it's challenging and pushes you. It forces you to develop skill, agility, quickness, endurance, and both physical and mental toughness. Being able to skate takes me back to my childhood and is tons of fun and makes me feel like a kid again. It satisfies my strong desires to play such a physical sport. When participating in derby, you forge new friendships and camaraderie with your derbying sisters and with those who volunteer in non-skating and refereeing capacities. It's helping me to process things that happen outside of derby, things out there in other realms of life. It has given me self-confidence and has empowered me. And, it has opened my mind and has liberated me in many ways. All of this is very therapeutic for me. Everything that it is about enriches my soul.

Roller derby isn't just a sport. It has a much deeper purpose. It involves and creates a great sense of community and togetherness. It has been way more encompassing than other sports have been for me. It's not just something I do to pass time and to keep busy with. It is a lifestyle and a mindset. It is my life. I am derby.

Posted on April 9, 2015 .