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Hi. I'm Jenna McGuiggan.

Writer. Editor. Storyteller. Teacher. Roller Derby Girl.

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jennifer{at}thewordcellar{dot}com
724-787-1288

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Wednesday
Apr042012

Roller Derby Makes Me Brave: A new chapter (Part 1)

Two years ago I went to my first roller derby bout, and then I wrote a blog post about it on April 22, 2010. On March 21, 2012, almost 23 months to the day of that post, I finally strapped on a pair of skates and hobbled around a rink for half an hour. Those 30 minutes were a long time coming, and they've catapulted me into a new adventure. I'm going to be chronicling my journey from couch potato to roller derby badass. You're invited to roll along with me.

To start, here's the original post (slightly edited) from two years ago. (You can read the whole series or the individual posts.)

** ** **

Romp n Roll rink; shot with cell phone camera

April 2010 -- Roller Derby is the great social equalizer. I am not even kidding. It is a land of freaks and geeks, of unshaven bluecollar men and shaven young people of indeterminate gender, of interracial couples and Girl Scout troops. You can be yourself at Roller Derby, and it's all good.

I wasn't sure how I'd feel at my first roller derby bout. (that's what matches are called: bouts). I wondered if I'd be cool enough, hip enough, gritty enough to fit in with the crowd. I arrived early at the Romp & Roll rink in Glenshaw, hoping to snag one of the few tickets available at the door. On my way to the entrance, I passed a cluster of men and women hanging out near the side door ― the door that the insiders used, the entrance that means "I'm with the team." They were dressed in biker black and were smoking cigarettes. Suddenly it seemed like my outfit (dress-over-jeans and a little lime-colored cardigan) that feels so funky in my suburban neighborhood marked me as a newbie, a roller derby virgin, a goodie-two-shoes who couldn't skate with the big girls. But I kept walking, head held high and eyes averted. I glanced to the left to see if anyone had noticed me, and here's what I noticed: Nobody gave a damn.

Here's what happened while I waited in line, which was a microcosm of the rest of the evening: I struck up a conversation with a man who reminded me of my father's factory worker friends. I told some young hipster guys that they were in the right line for tickets. A geeky guy bummed an American Spirit cigarette from one of the hipsters, and then had to ask for a light, too. A young woman in a wheelchair told the small crowd, "If they say the tickets are sold out, you all just pretend you're with me and I'll look real sad!" My husband arrived and got in line with me, and he didn't look out of place, despite still wearing his work clothes (dress shirt and slacks) and being the only non-white person in sight. No one batted an eye, because damn, this was roller derby, and we were all here to have a good time.

At this point in the story, maybe you're like: What's with all the judging-books-by-their-covers, McG? All I can say is: Why is everyone calling me McG all of a sudden? And also: Appearance is the first thing we see, so yeah, I'm a bit of a book-cover-looker. But I'm less concerned with judging others than of being judged. And now, maybe you're like: Whoa! Insecure much? And I'm like: Well, yeah, occasionally I'm insecure despite all my efforts to be a strong, confident, self-actualized person, maybe-just-maybe I sometimes worry in new situations. Just because I act like I'm all self-possed and brave doesn't mean I'm not shy and cumbersome on the inside, okay? And now you're like: Um, okay, chill out and stop putting words in my mouth, because, dude, I'm just trying to read about roller derby. And now I'm like: Frickin-a!

Inside Romp n Roll, the joyful melange of people expanded. I didn't feel out of place at all, because it was impossible to stick out. Goths and punks and bikers co-existed peacefully alongside whitebread families with adorable toddlers. There was no baseline for normal here, which meant that everyone got to be beautiful and wonderful in their own way. If only the rest of the world were as integrated as the crowd at a roller derby bout! Dare I say it? Roller derby is the key to world peace.

I think roller derby may also be the only thing (besides sex) that could convince me to enjoy sweating. I generally don't like to exercise or do anything that requires me to catch my breath. I'm a sedentary sort of person, but I have secret dreams of speed. I used to fantasize about flying around the ice as a figure skater, but now I'm hooked on old skool roller skates. The spandexed people of California can keep their inline skates. Give me a shoe with four wheels, one at each corner of my foot.

I watched those women skate and block and fall, and I wanted to be one of them. I was so quiet that my husband asked me if I was tired, but I was focused, intently studying the techniques of the game. I've never played or cared about a sport in my life, but there I was, trying to figure out if I'd be a better blocker or jammer.

Earlier that day I had lunch with a former co-worker. When I told her that I want to be a roller derby girl, she replied, "You're too nice for that.

I said, "Oh, I have a dark side." 

I'm not the kind of girl to wear fishnet stockings, to have tattoos or piercings, to know how to move my body in time to the rhythm of music and skates, to be strong and confident in my own skin. But I could be. I tap danced for eight years as a kid, and I'm sure a set of fishnets came with one of those costumes. On Saturdays my dad would drop off my friends and me at the roller rink, where I skated with all the bad-assery I could muster at eleven-year-olds, moving in time to Tina Turner's "What Love Got to Do With It?", round and round that rink like I owned it, even though I had no idea what the song was about. In high school I sported a fake nose ring, and the only thing stopping me from getting real piercings and tattoos is my body's rejection of foreign bodies as evidenced by two disastrous attempts at pierced ears.

Sometimes I feel like 11-year-old me had more bad-ass potential than 34-year-old me does. Knowledge may be power, but innocence has a force all its own. I don't know if I'll ever try out for the roller derby team, given the practicalities of my knee, which makes a grinding sound when I bend it, and the fact that the rink is an hour from my house. But there's a bout next month and a general skate before that. I plan to be there, with or without fishnets.

Reader Comments (6)

i love this so much.
yes.
adore you mcg. adore.
April 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterliz
Congratulations! I don't even know you, and I'm proud of you. I started last year, injured myself, am rehabbing now and will be going back soon. I'm still very new and terrible. I know that I have lost any muscle that I gained. So I'll be going through the whole fresh meat process again with you. Hydrate, stretch, do some strength training, and fall small. Good luck!
April 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterlea
Jenna, this is a great post, such fun. And I have to say, reading it brings to mind one of my favorite songs, Roller Derby Queen by Jim Croce. Here are part of the lyrics: "Well, I fell in love with a roller derby queen. Round and round. Oh, round and round. Meanest hunk of woman that anybody ever seen, down in the arena." :)
April 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPatrick Ross
oh. how i loved this. truly.
i recently just went through a similar experience
here in my little town in the middle of nowhere...
sadly...i'm having trouble making a decision...
justifying the cost of the gear
against how much time i will {realistically} have to go...

and part of me thinks
ok. so now stop hiding behind those grown up reasons
and just
do
it
gawddamnit.

we'll see.

btw.
i love your writing!
April 5, 2012 | Unregistered Commentergkgirl
My husband thinks I need to try this! I say, I would have to change my blog from The Self-Compassion Project to The Self-Concussion Project.

Seriously, love this post! I love how you have this little conversation with you and the reader in the middle of it.
April 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBarb Markway
"Knowledge may be power, but innocence has a force all its own."

What a fantastic line!
May 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterShari

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