Making the Transition: A New League

Transitions are the uncomfortable, in-between moments that bridge our pasts to our futures. In roller derby, many of us look to cope with, grow from, or even kick the butts of our pasts through physically demanding and totally rad athleticism. My transition from Enchanted Mountain Roller Derby, a strong and scrappy group of amazing women in a rural community, to Queen City Roller Girls, a dynamic and powerful league in an urban community, is truly just beginning and yet there is already so much learned.

That first day I showed up for boot camp feeling nervous and trying to not have any expectations for how things might go. I took some pride in the fact that my gear was battle scarred and hoped that I would look confident despite my nerves. In those first moments I realized that I would learn a boat load of new skills, techniques, and strategies from a range of skaters with a range of experiences. I also realized that I would learn about a boat load of ladies who are mothers, teachers, chefs, fellow social workers, artists, world travelers, and pretty much modern day heroes. The athleticism of roller derby is impossible to disentangle from the interpersonal relationships formed within the team- the sisterhood of the sport.

That first practice I missed my home league- with its predictable drills and predictably warm yet badass faces. I felt a bit like a traitor. In joining roller derby in 2013, I found a family in a new town, so to move away and start a new family elsewhere did feel a bit like an affair. My EMRD family had supported me through a Master’s Degree and a divorce. They had been there for me as roommates, as shoulders to cry on, as celebrators of my successes, as cross country travel buds, as dog-sitters, and surrogate sisters. Leaving a league might seem like a minor change, but the nature of the sport makes it so that the life you live, the lives of your teammates, and your collective derby culture are interwoven.

Photo by Rene T. van Ee
At my former league I had learned a number of lessons that carried over well to QCRG. Treat one another with respect: An easy carry over lesson, and one applicable to every life area. Wear your protective gear: This is not a joke, wear your dang helmet, no matter how cute your hair looks! Warm up and stretch: Your bod is a temple built for taking and delivering hits, quickly juking opponents, and also living the rest of your life so treat it well to prevent injury. Practice as hard as you play: Your teammates are not made better by you going easy on them, nor are you made better by teammates going easy on you. It is not personal: Do not take those brutal blows personally, grow from them, thank that skater, and get your hands up for high-fives. Derby is inclusive: There is no room for intolerance in this sport. This is roller derby, regardless of who you skate for, and it was really nice to see that uniformity from one league to another.

It has been a remarkable few months. From September to now, I have made some great connections with fellow skates in their own transitions. Some skaters are returning from having babies, some are returning after injuries from last season, some from juniors to the adult league, and some are transfers like me. Now that the draft is over, there is the opportunity to build even more cohesive relationships with our teammates. The Devil Dollies take off skates derby activities pretty seriously. We have homework on the regular- writing assignments, watching videos, off skates work outs, etc. That is totally new for me. While EMRD encouraged these things there were no assignments. As a person who just finished grad school and feels a void left by no longer having to write massive research papers, I really appreciate the homework. One other thing that is quite new to me is the use of online forums, and social media to keep one another accountable, communicate about our practices, goals, and upcoming events. QCRG is really good at communication. We all find out details for upcoming events, expectations for our participation, practice outlines, and more, on both the forum and social media as a means to ensure that no one is left out of the know. It is work to keep up with, but it’s the kind of work you whistle while you do.

Photo by Rene T. van Ee
Looking to the future, I am excited about this new step and all the new adventures and relationships it will bring. It takes time to develop the strong connections that make it so that I could read a fellow skaters mind on the track. Transitions take patience. Someday I will be able to look back on this time and reflect on how it took weeks for me to be comfortable enough to let out a rockin’ belch in front of these women, or how I felt a little anxiety about where to sit in the locker room during try outs, or how I’d worried that I wouldn’t have a partner during paired drills. I can already feel that shift happening, when my teammates shout “Bye Hammer!” from the locker room after a good, hard practice. I also know that as a team, as we build our cohesiveness, we will go through transitions together, and that will further connect us. The transition from pre-season to oh-crap-it’s-happening-now is upon us and the excitement is in the air. Whatever the future season holds I know it will be inspiring and filled with growth. This move from one league to another is a reminder for me that I can handle change, not only handle it, but blossom in it. This sport provides that opportunity for everyone involved. We all have an opportunity to change our bodies and our minds through this sport- transitioning into amazing, unique, and complex roller derby girls.

~Hebrew Hammer