I wasn’t the only person at derby tryouts without tattoos, facial piercings and edgy haircuts/colors, but it was close.
Another straight-edge girl in a lacy tank top turned to face me and another woman as we all waited to get our rental skates from the counter. Sensing some privacy, Straight-Edge confided, “Some of these girls are pretty rough, huh?” What she didn’t see – and I did – was the full back tattoo of the girl with us to whom Straight-Edge had directed her comment. I tried to make “ABORT! ABORT!” eyes but it was too late. Back Tat said, “It’s certainly a lifestyle. One that I find charming.” I didn’t know whether to shrink away from the awkwardness or giggle in excitement that for once, the awkwardness wasn’t a direct result of something I had said.
The trainers/coaches/managers/authority figures were really something to behold. Sure, they were tattoo’ed, pierced and dyed-black like the rest, but they were also smokin’ hot. Super fit, lithe, totally confident, sassy and absolute pros on their skates. Some barked out orders like drill sergeants. I made the mistake of asking one of them if I was allowed to use the stack of borrowed knee pads she was standing near. “We’ll tell you when you can get pads,” she drawled. I tried to say “Thanks” in a tone of voice that conveyed my coolness and aloofness but also sincerity and willingness to take direction. I’m sure it came out in a squeak. They referred to each other with parts of their derby names, "Go with Nasty..." "Lawless has the paperwork..."
The first group of women – of which I was a part – got padded up and ordered onto the rink.
I have been on actual roller skates exactly twice in the past fifteen years, both of those times being deliberate practices for trying out. Considering this, I think I did really well. I had been intimidated by the number of women who showed up with their own suitcases carrying their own derby skates and pads, but as soon as I got onto the rink, my confidence was back up.
We skated slow, we skated fast. We practiced stops, we practiced stopping from a sprint. And I have to say, I felt really great. Looking back, I think I was at least in the top ten skaters there. Other girls were falling right and left but I was zipping around them with total control. My glutes and thighs were burning after 5 minutes but so help me, I was not going to raise my arms above my head like some kind of noob.
And then it was over.
I took off my skates and watched the second group of women while we waited. I was told to stick around to hear who had moved on. I figured there had to be an interview round because of how much "personality" was emphasized.
They called us around and said, "Everyone that didn't make it has already left."
While the other girls around me cheered and clapped, my first feeling was disappointment. About 35 girls tried out and 30 made it. To my left was a waif-like girl in tight jeans who made shaky steps in her skates. To my right was a larger girl who had barely stayed upright the whole time. Straight-Edge made it, as did Back Tat. I don't mean to sound mean, but I had wanted to earn it, you know? If I made the team, I wanted it to be because I was selected as worthy. Not just some consolation participation award. I have a feeling that the five that got cut actually cut themselves.
We then heard about thirty minutes worth of information about the league. We had made it to the Fresh Meat phase, not an actual derby team. Fresh Meat was the 4 month-long boot camp of training at the end of which you were (or were not) drafted to one of the five actual teams. Practices were twice a week including a 12-4pm practice every Sunday. Those practices included lessons in strategy and nutrition and physical conditioning. One weekend a month you had to devote entirely to the league - 8am Saturday to 5pm Sunday - to help move the track from the practice facility to the match location, work the matches (bouts), disassemble the track in the mornings and then practice. This is an addition to the fundraisers and extra curricular activities the league held. One line I remember hearing was, "This is not a hobby, it's a lifestyle."
Then there was the financial commitment. Sixty dollars a month for dues, plus $400-$500 in equipment, including skates, pads and a custom mouth guard. ("Show up with Wal-Mart equipment and we'll send you back home.") A part of me wondered if they kept all these poor skaters around just to get the money out of them, and that didn't feel good.
The financial thing I could have dealt with. I knew upfront about the fees. It was the time commitment I couldn't handle. When I told this story to my boss on Monday, she asked what I had expected. I expected practices twice a week, probably starting at 7pm. Bouts once or twice a month, and I'd probably have to show up an hour before go time. What I wasn't prepared to give up was every single Sunday and an entire weekend a month. That's my June time, my precious June time that I don't get enough of already.
At the end of the info session, the other girls cheered and gave each other high-fives. Some rushed up to the veterans and started their elbow-rubbing already. I packed up my bag and said bye to some of the girls from my group. I already knew I wasn't going to join.
It was fun. It was certainly an experience and I'm glad I did it. Now, I guess I'm in the market for a new hobby idea.
Ultimate Fighting, perhaps?