Sunday, March 4, 2012

The thing about roller derby...

... is that it's not just about roller derby.

Derby is a community.  Of the type in which members live close enough to each other that they are practically sitting in each other laps, where everyone knows every one's business, and nobody can do anything with tongues wagging.  Except that the living closely is more metaphorical in derby, although we do often sit on each other's laps.

Close communities are beautiful.  They cushion its members against depression, loneliness and lack of after parties.  They give us families that we can rely on to lend us a lace for our skates or a truck to help us move.  Communities all pull together to get something accomplished and share in the rewards.  There is a lovely feeling in having a group of people who share your goals and passions, that they will be there for you with the unerring regularity of practices and games.

Communities can also be cruel.  Their existence depends on conformity and of its members adding value to the community. Those who do not contribute, fit in or happen to break any of the many written or unwritten rules face consequences.  The worst of which is being ostracized or banished.  

Derby, in particular, is a community that grows not out of necessity and the need for basic survival, but out of passion.  Derby doesn't need to be, but we'll move heaven and hell to make it happen.

Derby isn't just the skaters for the skaters.  It isn't.  Derby happens because all the work that is done off skates by skaters and non-skaters alike.  Officials, league boards and committees, volunteers, fans, and hours and hours of leg work in planning, talking to municipal authorities, paying bills, researching, teaching, promoting, designing flyers, posters, tickets and uniforms, talking to other leagues, setting up bouts, coaches, venues, merchandising, fundraisers and even more talking and planning trying to work out what the community wants and how to do it.  And fielding endless questions and complaints from a world that wants this enormous cultural phenomena that is flat track roller derby brought to them, conveniently packaged and sanitized for the masses.  All. From. Volunteers.

Skaters do much of this work.  We have to, of course, otherwise we would not be skaters.  But to say that skaters are volunteers is fudging over the detail that skaters actually pay to skate in addition to all the unpaid work they do for their leagues and derby in general.  In addition to athletic training.  In addition to having lives and families. (Who, incidentally, tend to get dragged into the derby vortex.  In my league we now have skating husbands, skating wives, skating sisters and brothers, skating mamas, skating dads and skating children.)

Still, there is no way the skaters can do it all. 

It's mindboggling the time and resources that are put into this sport.  The know-how that has been shared, the thousands upon thousands of volunteer hours, the generosity and competition and love and hurt feelings and some extremely tenacious people who have been put down only to rise up again even stronger.  And being a community of passion rather than necessity, its all been done loudly, firmly, and with as many mistakes as triumphs.

I just want to say thank you to my fellow skaters, the officials, the volunteers, and the fans.  This community has given more than a sport, more than exercise and a reason to live healthy.  It's given me some great friends, some tentative love for my own body, self respect and more paperwork and meetings than I had ever imagined I might find in my lifetime.  I've shed a lot of tears but I've also, somehow, become someone I might possibly admire.

Go me.  And go you, dear derby community.  You're amazing.

Because roller derby is about much more than just roller derby.

1 comment: