When I was 14, Buffy the Vampire the Slayer was my hero. (Seems I’m not the only one). The sophomore to my freshman, she was that cool upperclassman, the gawky teenager I was yearned to be: sassy, stylish, and most importantly, strong. She was that petite girl that everyone including her mentor underestimated and, like many teenagers, I could relate, even if I couldn’t take down a guy twice my size with a quarterstaff.
Fast forward to March 2010. I had been to my first roller derby bout a few months earlier and watched in awe as women smaller than me juked through packs of blockers twice their size. They may not have been slaying vampires, but with nom de guerre like “Tara Armov” and their brightly colored tights, they certainly looked like superheroes. I thought if they could do it, I could too. And I couldn’t wait to try.
Aside from a brief stint in a recreational kickball league more concerned with flip cup than scoring runs, I hadn’t played a sport since high school, and even then I was more uncoordinated theater kid than jock. I also hadn’t owned a pair of roller skates since I had grown out of my plastic Fisher-Price quads in 1987. But I remembered being pretty good on a pair of rollerblades, and I definitely had more than enough moxie to make up for my lifelong lack of athleticism.
I arrived for my first class with the LA Derby Dolls without any gear or idea as to what I had signed up for. I joined several other women (and a few men) as they dug through boxes of skaters’ retired helmets, elbow pads, kneepads, and wrist guards to find something that kinda-sorta fit. I laced up a pair of their old school roller rink skates in an 8 (they had my size left!), and glided with ease over to the flat track, finding my skate legs immediately. I was excited and couldn’t wait to try out my skill on the banked track where I saw my first game.
That’s when it all fell to pieces. I couldn’t even stand on the banked track without immediately falling down. I had to crawl to the concrete infield and like a toddler learning to swim, would dip my toe stops onto the banked track, only to retreat to the shallow end of the derby pool when I couldn’t skate more than a few strides without slipping.
I learned many things that day. I had to buy a mouth guard. Skates are in men’s sizes, not women’s, so the pair I was wearing was two sizes too big. Tights aren’t just for show; they’re worn to help you slide and prevent injuries. My helmet was on backwards.
Little things like that.
Roller derby is easily the hardest and must humbling thing I’ve ever done. I could have quit that day and forgotten the whole thing. But my inner slayer wouldn’t let me. I bought a pair of starter skates made for derby. I got my own gear and started practicing at the beach, in my garage, and—to my cat’s chagrin—in my living room. At the end of my eight-week session, I was scoring points on the banked track. I even managed to hit a few of the clumsier girls down.
I still wasn’t Buffy good, and probably never will be. But that’s okay. I was always more of an Anya girl anyway.