How roller derby saved one skater’s life

Roller derby didn’t save my soul, but it may have saved my life.

I was an athlete. For a long time, I described myself as an athlete. Athletics, for me, was never about the exercise. It was never about brute strength, or pushing myself to a higher level just because. I’m not that girl you see running alone just to run. (The truth is, I hate running.) I have always loved being an athlete and playing sports because I loved being on a team. The exercise that came with being an athlete was just a nice fringe benefit. But then I grew up and life took over: I became a graduate, an employee, a wife, a lawyer, a mother, an active community member, and everything else. And somewhere within all those roles in my wonderful, full, often overwhelming life, I lost the athlete in me.

So, as life filled up, there was just no time left for exercise. My life, like that of every other working mom I knew, left no time for just me. In fact, I was lucky to even walk the dog, and it usually included pushing a stroller, taking a phone call, or both. While pregnant with my third child, I discovered the world of roller derby and knew instantly that I had to do THAT.  As soon as that darling baby girl was born, I strapped on my first pair of skates in at least twenty years. But a couple weeks later, I found out that the soreness in my joints and the aching in my bones, which I had attributed to my newfound enthusiasm for skating -and the couple of ensuing falls- was actually rheumatoid arthritis. I was shell-shocked. My body had turned against me overnight. And it was probably the best timing of my life.

At the second meeting with my rheumatologist, my husband asked point-blank: “So, it’s ok if she engages in contact sports on wheels, right?” With eyebrow raised, my doctor replied that, yes, actually, exercise is the best thing I could do. And there it was: my license to put me first. I was allowed to find that hidden athlete buried inside me and help her fight her way back to the top. It was a necessity now, doctor’s orders. And if I was going to put the kids and the work and the home and the husband and even the dog aside to exercise, I was going to have fun doing it.

So now I play roller derby. And when I skate, I don’t think about the family, or the obligations, or the rheumatoid arthritis. I think about how to be a better teammate, how to skate faster, hit harder, play better. Because now I belong to a team and they need me as much as I need them.

Ask a dozen derby girls what derby does for them and you’ll get a hundred answers. I get it now, that derby can save a woman’s soul and give her a reason to live; it can inspire a confidence and pride she’s never experienced; it can provide a built-in support network, a new social circle, a new respect for strength, a reason to stay sober, a reason to stay healthy; or it can be therapy encased in a hardcore, contact sport shell. Or it can be all of the above.

Derby is a reason for me to be active, to embrace and cherish my body and physical ability in a way I never did before. I may have rheumatoid arthritis for the rest of my life. And there may come a day when my medication no longer staves off the crippling pain, and I can no longer roller skate, much less play derby. On the other hand, playing derby may also be the best way to keep my biological demons at bay and keep my R.A. in check. Regardless, every time I put on my skates, I am struck with gratitude and appreciation that I am physically capable of playing roller derby. I relish every moment in my skates. I am me again. I am an athlete, again. And that becomes its own part of everything else in my life.

Written by Central Maine Derby’s Miss Anthrope