My heroes will always be roller girls
Posted on April 4, 2014
There’s one thing the movie “Whip It” got right and it was that whole bit about being your own hero. The film exposed a lot of women to derby for the first time, though I myself didn’t see it until I was on an eight-hour car ride headed to the first bout I would play with my league’s A-team. Since then I haven’t thought much of the plot, but the tagline, I have.
“Be your own hero.”
Being your own hero doesn’t mean the world revolves around you. It doesn’t mean you are perfect or the best of anything. I think what it means is you live your life fully, you take risks, you have adventures, you do things you never thought possible, you behave in ways that might be taken as inspiration by others.
Last summer outside a grocery store on the western side of a Great Lakes state, I asked a well known derby coach why she thought so many women had cottoned to derby, and why in the last 10 years. What was it about roller derby? She mentioned a quote by Victor Hugo: “Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come.” A lot of women in America, and, nay, the world, I think, were waiting for an opportunity to become the stars of their own lives. And derby offered an opportunity to do so. Finally.
It was an idea whose time had come.
I know that I myself spent a lot of time in my teens and twenties in basements listening to men, and a great fewer number of women, play punk rock songs about injustices, both pedestrian and political. I loved that scene, I loved that scene so much, but I was a spectator, a fan, a groupie. I was never a player.
In derby, I became a player, both literally and figuratively. And there’s something transformative about that, I think. Especially for people who’ve never seen themselves that way, and especially women.
How many people do you know who have embraced derby and gone on to have other successes in their lives? Better relationships? More meaningful jobs? New educational experiences? It’s not just a coincidence, I don’t think.
I think this I’m unwrapping the skin of the onion on why the “by day, by night” metaphor for derby girls never sat well with me. I don’t think we love derby so much because it allows us to live a double life, but because it allows us to become more authentically who we are.
A friend of mine that I met through derby moved to Alaska and joined an upstart league. They just had their first bout last week, in fact. A couple of weeks ago she texted me that skater bios were launching on their website and she’d listed Jackie Daniels and me as her derby idols. Jackie Daniels and me.
Me? Little old me who plays for a league that no one in derbydom has heard of? I don’t approach Jackie Daniels in derby skill so it seemed almost funny to see our names together. And I got a little tear in my eye. Not from laughing.
I get it. And I’ll accept it. Because through derby, my friends have become my heroes, too. Every single one of the ones I looked at and followed on the track. My big derby sister whose laterals I studied, the coach and men’s derby player who approached every drill with an intensity I tried to follow, anyone who ever did anything I wanted to learn. Also, all the freshies who came up behind me, putting their hearts in and doing more than they thought they ever could. Even the derby players I watch on wftda.tv who I don’t know, but could easily imagine knowing, because they are all real and approachable and awesome. You are all real and approachable and awesome.
There’s something empowering when our friends become our heroes. When we look up away from the television, up from the pages of magazines filled with shiny people we will never meet. Our heroes become people we can know and talk to and learn from and emulate. Real people of all shapes and colors and ages and backgrounds and sizes. This can happen in many avenues of life, I surmise — I don’t think it’s exclusive to our sport — but I speak from derby because that’s my wheelhouse. When we step into the starring roles of our own lives, when recognize the heroes among us, we realize that we don’t have to be exceptional to live greatly.