Photo courtesy of Junior

“All glamour to the jammer,” they say. I wanted none of it. I joined derby because I thought exercising on roller skates would be more fun than going to the gym. I was right about that, but I realized after passing my WFTDA skills there was more to it than that and the “more to it” was actually playing roller derby. Some people never take to that part of it and I didn’t at first. (Oh, you mean people are going to hit me? Hard? And I’m going to get so winded I think my lungs might explode? I’m going to see multiple people break their limbs? And then my reward is skating around in form-fitting shorts while hundreds of people look on? Yikes.) But I started to become competent at blocking and once I started to grasp the game a little better, my analytical side drove me toward the pivot role.

There are some girls who join derby with star panties in their eyes. I never understood that, but I also don’t like opening birthday presents because I shudder to think of a roomful of people looking at me. You know, even if said roomful of people comprises my friends. I have a tendency toward shyness, embarrassment and awkwardness. To add to my natural aversion to the spotlight, I recognized the first time I stepped up to the jammer line that jamming is hard. Especially when you’re not good at it. You get knocked down. Again. And again. And again. Two minutes suddenly feel epic. Like twenty minutes, an hour, a lifetime. Two minutes make you want to die. They make you hate yourself. They make you hate your opponents. They make you hate the concrete floor and the bloom of rink rash spreading on each thigh. When people held out the jammer panty at practice, I took to averting my eyes. (You know this trick unless you’re that rare breed of natural born jammer.) I focused on lateralling faster, hitting harder, communicating better in the pack.

Sometime during the winter of 2010-2011, my team experienced a jammer drought. A few of our stalwart jammers became consumed with life outside derby. The remaining league members were eye-averters just like me. We had a raft of excellent blockers, but the star-panty-eyed girls had left the building. It felt like a bit of a crisis as the opening of our 2011 season quickly approached. This was the perfect vacuum for me because, while not a born leader, I tend to step up when no one else will, which is how I came to pivoting during a 2010 scrimmage for our newly-formed B-Team. Looking around at the pool of available options, I figured I might be called upon to jam because I had decent — though not exceptional — speed, quick recovery and could bounce off a hit pretty well. I forced myself to jam a few times at practice, figuring I’d rather start there than during a bout, if it came to that. But I could really only bring myself to don the star like once per practice. But I still wound up in the primary jammer rotation in our first bout of the season in February 2011. I scored nine unanswered points during my first turn with the star and, lo, an accidental jammer was born.

For a long time I remained ambivalent about the new role I was filling. I loved blocking, I self-identified as a blocker and I kind of still hated jamming even though I’d somewhat resigned to doing it. Jamming was lonely, jamming was a lot of pressure. It was easy to feel like a failure at jamming. Early in 2011, our league held a clinic with Quad Almighty, Cincinnati Rollergirls coach and now a Race City Rebel, and he told us that jamming was 90% attitude. I knew I did not possess the attitude. Yet I still managed enough success that my coaches continued me in the position and sometime during the late season, I decided to stop worrying and learn to love the bomb. If I was going to do well at this thing, I needed to develop a relationship with it, an appreciation for it, and find the bits of fun in it. I began to seek the star at practice. Choosing something is a transformative act, I found. That precept is one of many I’ve taken with me off the track. And while we are not madly in love, jamming and I, we have developed a working relationship, one that might be long simmering and one day boil over. There’s a lesson here in all of this. I mean, a lot of lessons. Most importantly I think: Try something. And try it again. And again. Think about it differently. Then try it again.