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Dam City Rollers after 'fresh meat'
by Natalie Reid (aka: "Smack Sparrow") of the Dam City Rollers
When asked to describe the women who play roller derby, words that are oft-repeated are tough, bad-ass, and crazy. ”I could never do that” often follows right on the heels of those phrases.
What many don’t realize is that before we started many of us couldn’t skate, were out of shape, in the wrong kind of shape, were overweight or underweight, had never played sports, had only hazy memories of high school teams, or were too much or too little of something else entirely. We were: “Fresh Meat” (the affectionate term giving to derby girls who are still learning the basics.) There are a few to be sure, that played hockey, or were competitive ice skaters before they picked out their derby name, but the vast majority of us were not the accomplished skaters you see out on the track today.
After I saw my first Roller Derby bout, I knew that it was something I had to do. I saved for a few weeks and ate as cheaply as I could manage until I got most of my gear together. The gear was pretty pricey for my budget, but I was convinced it was worth it. I was so excited after I got my skates but before I had received the rest of my gear that I rolled around my boyfriend’s kitchen with his son’s skateboard knee pads on and some cardboard taped to my wrists. I still have a picture of me lying on that kitchen floor laughing really hard – mostly at how awkward I felt with these wheeled shoes strapped to my feet!
I arrived at my first practice with all of the shiny new gear that I had been able to afford, some borrowed old hockey pads on my forearms, and the most uncomfortable mouth guard in the world. I was ready! I would shortly be zipping around without a care in the world, mastering all the skills with no effort and getting right into playing derby, right? WRONG. I fell the second I tried to stand up. I stood up again and fell again. This continued.
As practice got under way, we were shown some different ways to fall forward, onto our protective gear to help save the poor bruised behinds. We also covered some basic ways to stop (not my forte) and participated in some group fitness. By the end of the practice I was sore, bruised, and hooked. But I was NOT a derby girl, not yet.
It takes about three months to graduate from the fresh meat training program. At the end, skaters are tested on what they have learned in this time and, if proficiency is shown in all the required skills, the skater becomes eligible to scrimmage with the rest of the league, to officially join a team’s roster, and to participate in games (though may still be quite a while before they see any time on the track in one).
I have been part of my team for two full seasons now. Sometimes it feels like I am making no progress whatsoever, day to day, but I’ve come a very long way from the girl in that picture who is lying on the floor. I have competed in over 20 bouts, skated on both banked and flat tracks, traveled to the Canadian Nationals in Edmonton, and trained with the LA Derby Dolls in Los Angeles. Now I get to help out training the new groups of fresh meat as they come in. I love watching the skaters improve! Last year, one of them, frustrated with a difficult drill, told me, “There is no way you were ever as bad as I am, you are such an amazing skater!” This year, the new girls will be telling her the same.
The Dam City Rollers are hosting two open houses for those interested in joining: Thursday, Oct. 24 7-9 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 27 2-4 p.m. at the Castlegar Legion, 248 Columbia Ave. in Castlegar.
For more, visit the West Kootenay Roller Derby website.