If there’s a sport that will challenge not only your expectations of your physical abilities, but what you want out of life, it’s roller derby.
“It’s completely changed my life,” testifies Brawly Parton (player #925) of Somer City Roller Derby, Somerset, Kentucky’s all-women roller derby team. “I am surrounded by fantastic, intelligent, and strong women who inspire me every single day to better myself, both mentally and physically.”
Teammate Amber Waves of Pain (AWOP for short; #25) echoes Brawly’s sentiments. “It’s been very fulfilling to watch already strong women get stronger and grow together.”
It has been over a year since the Somer City Roller Derby squad held their first official practice and those enriching experiences that AWOP and Brawly mentioned have not only served to cement the members’ bonds, but have strengthened their resolve and commitment to the team.
However, while many members of the team are reveling in the athleticism, camaraderie, and fun of the sport, it’s clear that this it’s something that so many of them have been wanting to dive into for quite some time and had just been waiting for the right opportunity.
“I remember getting interested in being on a roller derby team, but maintaining the expectation that it wouldn’t happen,” recalls squad member Ruby Von Starship (#623). However, after fortuitously hearing about Somerset’s forming team one night from the co-owner of a local pub—who is also on the team—she saw this as her chance to check out a practice.
And that’s a similar refrain that comes from other team members as well, including from Somer City Roller Derby member Killer (#87).
“One of my friends on the team—Jam Beasley—begged me to join for MONTHS, but I kept putting it off because I felt like I didn’t have time,” she recounts. “I had also never skated on quad skates, so I was worried that once I started, I wouldn’t like it or would suck terribly.” Once Killer gave it a go and practiced, she found that she loved roller derby.
Then there are members of Somer City who saw this as another opportunity to fulfill a long-held desire to bout on the rink.
“When I was in college, I wanted to play roller derby for the Lexington, Kentucky league,” Brawly explains, but never went because of school commitment and self-doubt. So, when the chance to join Somerset’s new team, she seized on the chance to be a part of it from the ground up.
With that involvement, though, comes hard work and weekly dedication to learn the various rules and skills necessary to fully immerse themselves in the sport—hard work they bring in spades.
“Learning the rules is arduous! It’s a process. It requires a lot of dedication, courage, and strength,” AWOP says, something seconded and thirded by other members of the team. They wear their commitment to striving for self-improvement on their sleeves.
“It has been the most work I have put into anything,” Ruby states, noting that building up the strength and endurance necessary to make it through an entire practice was the first step.
She goes on, “During the chaos of playing, it’s hard to even think about all the technicalities, but it’s getting more natural with time.”
Even as the practice may sometimes wear on a player, the growth—both physical and mental—of that player is evident.
“A famous quote by Bonnie D. Stroir of the San Diego Derby Dolls goes, ‘We ruin our bodies to save our souls and somehow that makes perfect sense,’” Brawly recalls. “It does make perfect sense,” adding “I love my teammates, I love practices and sore muscles and the work that goes into learning the skills and playing the game.”
But while there is a laundry list of skills and moves that roller derby competitors have to become adept at doing, gone are the days from the 1970s and 1980s in which derby was more wrestling theater than driven by rules.
Today’s roller derby “is nothing like that,” Brawly explains. “We’re not going to fight anyone on the track, we’re not going to fly into someone and kick them in the face skate-first. Roller derby is a sport just like any other; there are rules and regulations we have to hold steadfast or else we’re not allowed to play.” Those rules include passing both skills and written tests to compete against other teams across the state.
And that streamlining and reinvention of roller derby in the past two decades has given the sport structure and has, if anything, made the competition even more rigorous among derby athletes.
“Never giving up and pushing your body to its limits [are two life lessons I’ve taken],” laughs AWOP. “Also, I’ve learned some people’s shoulders are more dangerous than others!”
It’s pretty clear from speaking with the ladies of Somer City Roller Derby that the lessons they’re gleaning from their derby training and bouts are translating off the track as well, in a whole host of meaningful ways. One of those lessons is about standing up no matter how many times you fall.
“One of the first things we learned as a team when we first started is how to fall correctly,” Brawly recalls. “You’ll hear some of us joke about how we are really good at falling, but what we really mean to say is that we are the BEST at getting back up and continuing on. Derby has taught me that no matter how big the fall—and sometimes they’re pretty giant—you must keep going.”
Killer agrees, adding, “Everyone falls; the important thing is you get up fast and get back to being a badass.”
Ruby adds that, in derby and in life, communication is key. “One life lesson stands out for sure: not everybody communicates in the same way, which is tough for me to remember.”
Another tough lesson that we all struggle with at one time or another is conquering or come to terms with fear and, judging from these athletes’ answers, roller derby is a good opportunity to face that fear.
As Killer notes, “If you want to grow, you have to do things that scare you!” Brawly is on the same page.
“Even if you’re afraid, do it anyway,” she begins. “I never thought that I would be able to skate backwards or turn around mid-stride or even skate without having to hold someone’s hand. I was afraid. But I learned to push past the fear, to recognize it and acknowledge it, and then walk right on by.”
She goes on to explain that fear is part of life, but it does not have to have the loudest voice.
“Don’t let fear be the decider of your life. It’s okay to be afraid; just figure out a way to work through the fear.”
Which is why you will hear all of these women proclaim to the mountain tops that roller derby is an open sport that welcomes and values diversity.
“Roller derby is for everyone,” Ruby says. “Even if you think to yourself ‘I can’t even skate,’ ‘I’m too old,’ ‘I’m too big or small,’ it doesn’t really matter. Anybody can be taught to skate, and whatever you have to bring to the table will be useful on the track.”
If you are in the Somerset, Kentucky area, the Somer City Roller Derby team is holding a Friends & Family Night this Thursday, November 1st, at 7:30 PM at Sk8ter’s Paradise! Come by, meet the team, and watch the skaters bout against one another to get a feel for what roller derby is all about!