I was in King’s Books, while searching for the elusive Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (it’s a book club thing), when I overheard the shop girl chatting with a friend about her recent, impressively successful roller derby bout. My eyes stopped scanning the shelves as my ears perked up, and I happily engaged in the timeless habit of ease-dropping.
I don’t remember the particulars of her successes, but I do remember the discussion shifting to the ever increasing popularity of the sport, and at one point the shop girl declared that it was the fasted growing sport in the world! She quickly retracted her certainty, when her friend pressed for citations, but at that point the conversation switched again to the statement that inspired this blog post.
Fine, she said. Maybe it’s not the fasted growing sport in the world (although she was also lacking a citation that says it isn’t, so it very well could be), but if it’s not, the only reason is because it’s a rich white sport.
Her friend barked out a laugh, and said something along the lines of “what?”
The shop girl continued, “Well, you need money. It’s a very expensive sport.”
This was a bit of a heartbreaking moment for me, not so much because of the exact words I’ve conveyed to you, but because while the words “white sport” and “you need money” were jostling around in my head, I realized a bigger conclusion: you need more than money to join roller derby. You need money, you need time, and you need health insurance. And to be 21, but that’s not really part of what I’m talking about.
And on the subject of what I’m not talking about, let’s all assume that when she said “white sport” she was talking about the understood idea that white people tend to have more money. I’m too lazy to find a citation, and of course there are exceptions, but for the sake of this article, let’s all let that one go. (Editor’s note: the U.S. census site was broken when I tried to visit. Laziness triumphs over an understanding of the roots and nature of inequality).
Back to my point: roller derby is growing in popularity, looks incredibly fun, and has proven to raise my cool factor every time I mention that I’m going to join. (Seriously, every time I say I’m going to join I am 2 times more cool and 3 times more sexy.) So what’s stopping me? What’s stopping other enthusiastic potential players? Why aren’t I yet on a team?
Let’s walk you through the cost of required gear:
Skates: I bought mine from Wheelz (They don’t actually list much on their website) for $168. The range is from about $115 (which I was advised against) to $300. I’m sure it goes higher.
Helmet: $35 - $50
Knee pads: $28 – $70
Elbow pads: $20 – $50
Wrist guards: $15+
Mouth guard: $3.50 – $25
Padded shorts (optional, but based on some bruises of mine…): $50
Okay, so now you’ve dropped $300. You’re not done. The place I’m interested in charges $50 a month to join their team. Dock Yard Derby Dames charges $35 a month (but there are fewer opportunities for beginners, and I heard they’re about to move to Auburn). Sure, this is less than car insurance or my cell phone bill, but if you’re in poverty, or in school, or just lacking an abundance of cash, it’s a big wall between you and joining.
There really isn’t a way to get around the cost. In soccer or basket ball or football, all you need is a ball and a group of people and a yard. Go, play, win!
Not in the case in roller derby. You need the skates and you need a rink. One way or another you have to pay for it.
This is actually true for any sport you want to be good at, but again, unlike soccer or basketball, you have to go to a designated rink to really get practice in. Derby’s a lot more like swimming. When I did water polo, my practices worked around the pool’s schedule, and I couldn’t go in any time I wanted to do laps.
At Wheelz, the Toxic 253 derby practices are between 8pm and 10pm. I actually like that time slot, because I work in Seattle and at best I get home at 6:30. However, I work in Seattle; I leave my house at 7am. Getting home at 10:30 all sweaty and gross? Not exactly compatible.
Time is also important because to join the bigger leagues (Dock Yard Derby Dames) you need skill. I just equate skill with practice, which takes time. I take skate lessons once a week, and over four months I’ve gotten considerably better. But if I practiced derby the three times a week they hold practices? I’d have lost a ton of weight, gained a ton of muscles, and probably be able to actually play the game.
Shout out: I can’t play roller derby yet, but I can spin in circles, skate backwards, and do something called “shoot the duck!” (here is a nice link that illustrates the how to of the duck move, but on ice.) 10 am Saturday figure skating classes at Wheelz rock.
You’d think this goes with “money” but in my brain I see it differently, in part because I have had jobs that paid me plenty of money, but did not offer benefits. Additionally, there’s a reason roller derby requires you to have insurance (unlike certain other sports).
Let’s start with the fact that you’ve strapped wheels to your feet. Yes, that is awesome, but it also makes it considerably easier to lose balance and fall. You know, at the same time it makes it incredibly harder for other players to avoid running you over.
And then there’s the equally awesome shoving, hip bumps, tripping, and other maneuvers designed to land you on your face.
I was volunteering at a bout when a fellow volunteer told me that two girls had their ankles broken this year in the Dock Yard Derby Dames boot camp (which is only 4 weeks long).
This is a dangerous game. And while many of us are willing to risk it, leagues wisely require us to take precautions (like being able to pay for that emergency room visit). And that takes health insurance (or, I suppose, copious amounts of money).
I want the sexy cool points that come with being a derby girl, I love the feeling of speed skating around the rink, and my biggest regret in high school was that I never got a black eye from my water polo adventures. I’m totally ready for this sport.
Except I can’t join.
I have never managed to have money, time, and health insurance simultaneously, and roller derby is a surprisingly exclusive sport.
I’m not sure what the greater theme to this story is. “You can’t always get what you want” just reminds me of an obnoxious song used too much in TV shows. I should just “Keep on trucking” comes to mind, as another one of those over used clichés that come up when times are tough. I suppose my overall frustration is that it’s sad/weird that it costs so much to beat up some people in front of other people (hmm, maybe that gives derby girls a bad name. Let’s change it to “Enthusiastically engage in a physical sport”).
I still feel the need to offer a real conclusion, however, so I will leave you with inadequate advice.
If you are one of the poor souls wishing to join the great sport of roller derby, while living in Tacoma, while lacking time, money, or health insurance, start simple. Find a skate rink that’s near you. I use Wheelz because Fircrest isn’t far away, and it’s a block from TCC, making it close to a million bus lines. If possible, join what ever skate class you have time/money for. If you don’t have money for one ($10 a week can add up) find the cheap skate nights. A lot of rinks have $1 or free skate sessions, plus cost of skates (which you don’t have to pay once you save up your nickels and dimes in order to afford your own pair). Start volunteering for a derby league, it looks good when you are actually able to join, and by watching the sport you’ll learn things that will be helpful in the future.
Other than that? Figure out which barrier is holding you back, and then make a plan to fix it. The plan might take a few months (if you need to rearrange your schedule so that you have fewer things conflicting) or maybe even a couple of years (if the recession is holding you back and you can’t afford time and no one’s giving you insurance). These are the steps I’m taking. In my case, by the time I’m actually able to join I’ll have done a great deal to be ready, and I’ll be a much better player for it.