It was the night of our first roller derby bout and I wanted to puke. But bent over a toilet was no place for a team captain, and so instead I went over last minute strategy with my team, the Iron Maidens, while the Skate-a-Rama slowly filled with East Texans, most of whom had no idea what roller derby even was.
"I'll be the first jammer," I said. "Blockers will be Bad Apple, Seoul Crusher, Rainbow Fright, and Lala Boom-de-ay. Keep the pack tight. When the Brick Street Brawlers come through, get in front of Smack Bauer and remember that Crash McQueen has a shoulder of steel. Ready?"
As the lights flashed and the crowd cheered, we lined up on the track—five women from each team, the Maidens in green and the Brawlers in red, like a Christmas parade gone terribly wrong. I made one last adjustment to the flimsy piece of fabric pulled over my helmet, known in roller derby as the "helmet panty." The silver star sewn onto its side was important—it told everyone that I was the Iron Maidens' jammer, the skater responsible for scoring points.
I knew that once the whistle blew, the Brawlers would do everything in their power to block me, knock me down, and trap me in the pack. I also knew the Iron Maidens would be right there beside them, creating holes for me to slip through and helping me make my way around the rink. I ground my right toe-stop into the floor, leaned forward over my left leg. A ragged cheer rose from the crowd.
At the sound of the first whistle the pack took off, leaving the jammers behind. I watched, already plotting a course through their tangle of bodies, and then the second whistle sounded and I sprang into action. Smack Bauer, the Brawlers' jammer, was right at my side.
As we approached the back of the pack, I grabbed the waist of Rainbow Fright, using her to pull myself forward and around. I crouched low, hoping the Brawlers wouldn't see me, but no luck. A shoulder slammed into my side and I went down, helmet bouncing off the floor. In three seconds I was up again, racing to reach the pack. I passed two of the Brawlers before they saw me. A blur of red lurched my way but before she could make contact, an arm reached back, straight into my grasp. I wrapped my hands around Bad Apple's forearm and she whipped me forward, swinging me through a tight opening with a burst of speed. And just like that, I cleared the pack. The referee pointed at me with one hand, his other in the air, signaling that I was lead jammer. I nodded at him and dug in deep, skating hard so I could circle back to the pack and start the whole process over.
I hadn't actually scored any points yet—the first pass through didn't count and now, I had less than two minutes to claw my way through the pack as many times as I could, earning a point for each member of the opposing team that I passed. This two-minute period was called a jam, and there were two ways to end it. One was to run down the clock, stopping at the scream of the ref's whistle. The other was a strategic move that could only be completed by the lead jammer. While the opposing jammer was still struggling to get through the pack, the lead jammer could stand upright and swiftly slap her hipbones with both hands, calling off the jam and keeping her from scoring. The adrenaline I felt in those moments meant that after a scrimmage or a bout, my hips were covered with palm-shaped bruises.
No matter how the jam ended, the outcome was the same. We had thirty seconds to line up, shuffle our jammer and blockers according to the line-up, and do it all again. We'd been practicing for more than a year, teaching ourselves how to skate, how to play, how to fall, how to get back up. This bout was the culmination of months of aching muscles and obsession, and in that split second between each jam, before the whistle told us to start skating again, I marveled at the simple fact that this was actually happening.
At the end of our first bout my legs felt like spaghetti, my ribs ached, and my eye was turning a tender blue where it had caught an elbow. Miss Glad Ass broke her collarbone; Seoul Crusher's pinkie finger hung crooked from her hand; Roly Ghost's ankle was so swollen she could barely pull off her skate. Yet they regretted nothing, and neither did I. We had done it. We had played. We were good. And it didn't hurt that the Iron Maidens took first place.
When explaining the location of Nacogdoches, Texas, it's best to describe its proximity to larger, more exciting cities—two hours north of Houston, four hours east of Austin, two hours west of the Louisiana border. With a population just over 30,000, it's actually the largest town in the area, best known for three things: it's widely accepted as the Oldest Town in Texas; folk singer Willie Nelson recorded an album there and then named it after the city; and, in 2003, much of the debris from the space shuttle Columbia landed in and around the city's 25 square miles. Nacogdoches is also home to Stephen F. Austin State University, and it was this college that brought Nathan and me to East Texas. We had met and fallen in love while in college in New York. He was originally from Texas and, after switching majors, transferred to Stephen F. Austin. A year later, I graduated and followed. We were supposed to live in Texas for two years but things kept coming up—more degrees, better jobs, cheaper rent—so we put our escape plan on hold. Before I knew it, what should have been a brief experiment in southern living turned into an actual life, and not the one I had pictured. I told myself that Nacogdoches was a small price to pay for true love, but the longer I lived in Texas, the less I was convinced.
Then one night, after a few bottles of wine, my friend Amy told our group of friends that some women in town were starting up a roller derby. Would anyone want to check it out with her?
"I'll go," I said.
"You will?" Amy asked. She sounded doubtful. "You're sure?"
I didn't actually know how to skate and, besides a short-lived Little League career, had never played a team sport in my life. But I was desperate for some kind of escape, some release from the dull life I had fallen into. Roller derby seemed like the perfect cure.
"I'm sure," I replied, pouring another too-large glass of wine. We clinked our glasses together and grinned.
"Roller derby?" Nathan said when I got home and told him about my new life plan. "Are you crazy? You'll kill yourself."
I couldn't blame him for jumping to this conclusion. Nathan knew first hand the way I tripped over invisible things, hit my head on open cabinet doors, developed large purple bruises on my legs from injuries I couldn't remember.
"You're being ridiculous," I said. Deep down, I worried that he was right, but I certainly couldn't let him know that. "It's just a game."
"A game where women slam each other to the ground," he said.
"I'll wear a helmet."
"And a mouth guard. And knee pads. Is safety gear a requirement?"
"Of course!" I said, though I had no idea if this was true. I realized suddenly that there were a lot of questions I had forgotten to ask. "The first meeting is tomorrow," I said. "And I'm going. We can talk more about it after I hear what they're all about."
"Okay," Nathan said. I could tell he was worried. So was I.
Decrepit was the first word that came to mind when Amy and I walked into Skate-a-Rama the next day. An old building with a small and uneven rink, business had clearly peaked in the 70s and the facilities hadn't been updated since. The floor was coming up in places, the sign outside was missing letters, and the cotton candy machine was clearly a fire hazard. This did not bode well.
"Hi!" A woman with short red hair and an easy grin greeted us at the door. I recognized Merci from parties around town, but we'd never really hung out.
"Hey," Amy said. "Is this the roller derby meeting?"
"Yup," Merci said. She handed us each a thick packet of information which, I soon learned, included a rulebook, gear requirements (knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards, mouth guards, and a helmet were required), and a liability form, which would release her, her co-founder Ruby, and Skate-a-Rama from any responsibility should we incur a major injury on the premises. I thought about turning around and leaving right then and there, but I didn't want to prove Nathan right. I stood my ground.
"Take a seat," Merci waved at the small group of women sitting in a circle on the floor. "We're going to start in a few minutes."
I recognized a number of the women—Nacogdoches was, after all, a small town—and for the most part, they looked normal. If you ignored the shelves of beat up roller-skates lining the walls, you might have mistaken us for a quilting circle. Then Merci stood at the head of the circle and cleared her throat.
"Welcome to the Nacogdoches Rollergirls," she said. "If you think that kicking ass on roller skates is a fun way to spend your time, then you've come to the right place."
"Maybe you think you're not tough enough to play roller derby," Ruby said, as if she had read my mind. She was tall and thin, with an angular face and long brown hair that curled down her back. "Forget that. All you need is a pair of skates and the desire to learn. We'll take care of the rest."
It was exactly what I needed to hear. I borrowed a pair of brown skates and wobbled my way to the rink, holding on to the railing as I went. My legs were shaky, my balance was questionable, and I managed to slip and land on my tailbone within the first five minutes, sending a sharp pain shooting up my spine. Most of the women were in the same boat, while a select few whizzed back and forth across the rink, skating forwards, backwards and spinning to a stop on their toes. I was awestruck and envious, and every time I fell down I got up and tried again. By the end of that first night, I had made two decent laps around the track and even though I could only stop by crashing into the railing and holding on for dear life, I was hooked.
Roller derby might kill me, I reasoned, but at least I would die happy.
As weeks went by and we logged hours and hours at Skate-A-Rama, our isolation in rural East Texas made it easy to feel as if we were single-handedly inciting a roller derby revolution. The truth was that we had cohorts all over the country, building leagues from the ground up, and we all had the same person to thank for our obsession—a man named Leo Seltzer.
In the early 1930s, Leo Seltzer had already made millions by hosting Walkathons, and he was on the look out for the next big thing. One day he read a magazine article that claimed roller-skating was the most popular sport in America. Every man, woman, and child, the article reasoned, had skated at least once in his or her life. Seltzer felt there had to be some way to exploit roller-skating for his own gain and, after sketching plans and talking it over with some friends, came up with a unique event that would combine Walkathons and roller skating with good old fashioned theatrics. He called it the Transcontinental Roller Derby, and the first one took place on August 13, 1935, in Chicago.
Over the course of the derby, skaters would cover 4,000 miles on a banked track, roughly the distance from one coast to the other—hence the "transcontinental." Contestants entered in mixed teams of two and took turns skating anywhere from 85 to 110 miles a day. They slept on cots in the center of the rink, ate six meals a day, and took three urine tests daily to prove their health had not been compromised. The first team to make it 4,000 miles without being disqualified by collapsing from exhaustion, accidentally falling down, or otherwise giving up would be deemed the winner.
To keep things interesting the derby also hosted short sprints, called "jams," for which contestants could receive small prizes. These events, combined with the exhaustion of the skaters (those urine tests were not, it turns out, foolproof) resulted in some serious spills and injuries. And while the idea of the transcontinental race was intriguing, it was the crashes that dominated the headlines. Leo Seltzer was nothing if not a shrewd businessman. He quickly rewrote the rules of the roller derby, turning it into a full contact sport between two teams, complete with rules, strategy, and, of course, drama—some of which was real, and some of which was constructed for drama's sake. It worked.
By 1950, sheer brutality was roller derby's main selling point. Each event featured a men's game and a women's game, known in derby lingo as bouts, and it quickly became obvious that the women were the crowd favorite. In a 1950 article published in the Saturday Evening Post, John Kobler wrote, "The ladies of the oval fear nothing in human form. They play an infinitely rougher, meaner, more vindictive game than the men, and bear grudges for years. Masculine tempers will now and then explode into brawls, but peace is usually restored in the locker room. Not so among the women. They will perpetuate vendettas with the implacability of Corsican bandits."
There are countless stories from this era of derby women who ruled the rink. Ann Calvello, who broke her nose twelve times during her career. Joanie Weston, who was the highest-paid female athlete in the 1960s and 1970s. Judy Sowinski, who skated for the Philadelphia Warriors, spent nine years with the Los Angeles Thunderbirds, and captained the New York Bombers before retiring from the sport in the 1980s.
The more I read about the history of roller derby, the prouder I became of our lineage. I saw myself as part of an illustrious timeline, the next generation in a family of women who pushed boundaries and challenged the norm. Until roller derby, Nacogdoches had been a placeholder on the way to something greater. Now, it was home to everything that mattered. In my mind, the rink was the sun, and everything else—school, work, family, pets—were planets and moons that simply revolved around it. Each time I laced my skates, my purpose in life became clearer. Roller derby was not a game or a hobby. It was my destiny.
Despite the fact that the roller derby revival was still young, there were already a few hallowed traditions. Choosing your name was the first.
Most of the Nacogdoches Rollergirls had never played a full contact sport, and many of us found it difficult to skate and hit with the aggression that derby demanded. Too often we would land a perfect hip check and send a skater flying, only to apologize as soon as she hit the ground. Our coaches—mostly husbands and boyfriends of skaters, including my own partner, Nathan, who became a referee—were forced to ban the phrase "I'm sorry" from our rink. Any apology, no matter how well meant, would be punished with pushups.
Choosing a new name and a new identity was a symbolic way to release us from these impulses. Sure, Sonnie would never slam a skater into a wall, breaking her ring finger in the process. But Seoul Crusher? That was a different story.
Like the rest of my teammates, I took the selection of my roller derby name seriously. I wanted something strong and powerful—I am woman, watch me skate!—but it also had to be clever, classy, and preferably literary. There was already a national registry in existence, which made choosing a unique name difficult. Every time I thought of a name that held promise, I checked the registry to see if some other skater in some other state had already claimed it. Every time, she had.
One evening, while drinking a beer and writing down various possibilities on a dry-erase board, I struck gold. The name was perfect—a solid pun with both a touch of class and a sense of danger. I tried not to get my hopes up before I checked the registry, sure it would be taken. I typed the name into the official website and waited for it to return my name.
It did not. The name was mine.
I immediately erased all the other choices scrawled around my new identity and then gazed at it, alone in a sea of white, the stark black letters calling me home.
"Madame Furie," they said.
And I answered.
While the folks of Nacogdoches may have shook their heads and blessed our hearts as we skated in circles, there were other women, in other places, who understood us perfectly. In December of 2006, the Nacogdoches Rollergirls had the opportunity to spend a weekend with some of those women. A third of our league—myself included—traveled to Austin, Texas, modern roller derby's birthplace, to attend a boot camp with the Texas Rollergirls, ranked as the number one league in the nation. For three days, it was nonstop roller derby, everything from brutal training drills to endless scrimmages to skate maintenance sessions to more brutal training drills. We collapsed in bed each night, exhausted and sore, only to rise a few hours later and do it all again. I loved every minute of it.
At the end of boot camp, as we said our teary goodbyes to the other women, exchanging numbers and promising to attend bouts all over the country, the Texas Rollergirls slipped each of us an individual assessment of our skills. I opened mine in the parking lot and skimmed it quickly, eager to see what my idols had to say about me.
Fast skater. Good thinking on your feet. Too timid. Go agro!
"What's agro?" I said.
"Aggression," Max Wood answered, dragging No Merci's gear bag behind him. "It's a punk rock term."
Aggression. After months of practice and three days of non-stop derby action with the best skaters in the country, I was still too nice for roller derby. Even though I had just experienced the best weekend of my life, I couldn't help but feel like I was returning to Nacogdoches a failure.
A few weeks after boot camp, our coaches decided that it was finally time to split the league into two teams. No Merci became captain of the Brick Street Brawlers, while Killa Watts led the Iron Maidens. I was drafted to the Maidens and we immediately established a healthy rivalry with our brand new nemeses. Everything was going well until it wasn't.
One by one, we began losing skaters. Some women cited time commitments—roller derby was a lot of work, and we hadn't even had a bout yet. Others grew frustrated by the physical demands and decided to pursue athletic endeavors that were not quite so brutal. We struggled to keep our ranks full by recruiting new skaters, but having to start from scratch again and again was demoralizing.
One Saturday morning, we arrived at Skate-a-Rama for practice, no idea that we were about to suffer our biggest blow yet.
"Killa Watts quit the league," No Merci informed us as we were lacing our skates.
"Are you kidding?" I said. No Merci shrugged.
"She said she just doesn't have time for it, and that she's really sorry. You'll have to vote on a new captain."
I looked around at the rest of the Maidens and saw my own disappointment reflected in their faces. Killa Watts wasn't just our captain—she was also our best skater, one of the few people in the league who was naturally talented.
Practice that morning was morose, as each of us wondered who would step up to take Killa Watts' place. During our cool down laps, we decided to head to Java Jacks, the local coffee shop, to discuss our next move.
We had barely sat down with cups of coffee when Seoul Crusher spoke. "I think Madame Furie should be captain," she said.
"I second that," Bad Apple said.
I had been mid-sip when this announcement was made and immediately spilled hot coffee down my shirt.
"You're all crazy," I said. "I'm not anywhere near as good a skater as Killa Watts was. I've never been the captain of anything before."
"But you love roller derby, and that's more important," Seoul Crusher said. The others nodded their heads in agreement. I held my coffee in my hands and looked at each of them, my mind and heart racing.
I had never considered myself a natural leader, and while the hours and hours of practice were beginning to pay off, I wasn't a natural skater either. I felt like I had to work harder than every one else just to keep up. The evaluation I had received from the Texas Rollergirls echoed in my mind—Too timid. Go agro. How could I inspire my teammates, lead them to victory, when I spent more time receiving hits than giving them?
But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. Killa Watts had been a great skater, the perfect combination of speed and strength. None of that mattered, though, because she had quit. She wasn't obsessed with roller derby. She didn't want to give up every free moment to help run the league. She often missed practices, showed up late to meetings, never volunteered to write press releases or host recruitment events. I, on the other hand, had not missed one practice, one event, one trip to the bar since I joined the league. I thought about roller derby when I woke up, and I dreamt about it while I slept. I wouldn't ever walk out on the Iron Maidens, and as long as there was a league to fight for, I would be right there on the front lines. Maybe, I thought, passion was more important than talent. And if that was true, then maybe I could be the captain of the Iron Maidens after all.
"Okay," I said. I held my cup of coffee so tightly my knuckles turned white. "Okay. I'll do it."
We had solved the problem of replacing our captain, but our celebration was short lived. Deep down, we knew that losing Killa Watts was the symptom of a larger problem, and that problem was none other than Nacogdoches itself.
Our small town meant that the pool of potential skaters was limited, and the majority of Nacogdoches women were simply not interested in roller derby. Blame the politically conservative environment. Blame the fact that we were situated squarely on the Bible belt. Blame the reality that many of the women who were in their physical prime were too busy getting married and raising young children. The truth was that people had better things to do, and when they showed interest in our derby endeavor, they were mostly just being polite.
Roller derby's reputation had preceded our league, and we were up against a lot of preconceived notions about what it was we were doing. The older generation remembered the original roller derby and told us about how they used to watch it on television when they were young. The younger generation had seen the reality TV show Rollergirls, which followed the antics of a wild group of skaters in Austin, Texas, and wanted to know if we wore fishnets and short skirts during our games. We did, but that was beside the point. "We're athletes," we said to anyone who would listen. Too often, no one was. We kept skating anyway.
"I've been thinking about how to save the league," No Merci said, "and it's actually pretty simple. We have to have a bout."
We were at Rita's, our favorite bar, drowning our sorrows after a disappointing practice. Only about ten people had shown up, including refs, and we had skated for a half an hour before calling it quits.
The reality of our situation had become unavoidable. While we had been transformed by roller derby, Nacogdoches was still exactly the same. We needed to make our town feel the thrill of roller derby—only then could Nacogdoches fall in love with roller derby, too. No Merci understood this—now she just had to convince the rest of us.
"We're not good enough to bout," Seoul Crusher said. "We barely have enough people. I don't think it's safe."
"No one joined this league to be safe," No Merci said. "And so what if we're not the best players? No one here has ever seen roller derby live. They don't know the rules, they have nothing to compare it to. We'll wear some short skirts, we'll make the tickets cheap, we'll have an after party right here at Rita's." She was thinking faster than she was talking, her eyes flashing. As I listened, I thought back to the day I joined the league, how scared I was, how unsure of myself. Even then, No Merci knew exactly what to say to convince us that roller derby was a good idea, that it would be the best time of our lives. I believed her then, and I believed her now.
"Let's do it," I said. I placed my beer on the table and looked at each of the woman sitting with me. "Let's bout."
Seoul Crusher was right—we weren't ready for that first bout. We were exhausted after the first fifteen minutes, our hits were sloppy, our referees were inconsistent. I could feel adrenaline coursing through my blood, making my hands shake and my teeth chatter, and I knew the rest of the league felt the same. And yet, when the whistle blew and we started skating, something transcendent happened. My mind slowed down. My legs felt taut and muscular. I focused on the bout with a single-mindedness that I had never known, before or since.
Just as No Merci predicted, the crowd's ignorance worked in our favor. For the most part, they could not tell the difference between an accidental hit and a planned one, between moments when another player slammed us to the ground and when we just happened to trip over our own skates.
In the weeks preceding the bout we had plastered the town with fliers, sold tickets at the bar, the coffee shop, and the liquor store, begged our friends, co-workers, and families to come and watch us play. The turn out, by Nacogdoches standards, was impressive. At least two hundred people where crammed into the Skate-a-Rama that night, even though the rink could only legally hold 150. Whether they had come to show support, or because they wanted to be there in case someone broke her neck, we didn't care. All that mattered was that they were there.
After we won the bout, I led the Iron Maidens in a victory lap around the track and listened to the crowd cheering. I closed my eyes and let my skates guide me around the rink, trying to hold on to the moment for as long as I could.
The euphoria from our first bout was fleeting, and soon other emotions emerged. A Brick Street Brawler accused one of the Iron Maidens of playing dirty. I had to take part in an intervention, which lasted hours and did more harm than good. A number of injuries had been incurred during the bout, and it would take time for those collarbones, pinky fingers, and ankles to heal. Because we were already playing with the bare minimum, this meant that we would have to postpone our second bout. As head of the Public Relations committee, I was tasked with passing on the bad news through the league's Internet message board. Reactions ranged from disappointment to outrage, and I found myself offering apologies for events entirely out of my control.
But there was hope. After two months of more practices, major regrouping, and trust exercises reminiscent of summer camp, we were finally ready to stage a second bout. The periods were shorter than regulation demanded, because we had exactly the right number of skaters. Everyone played in every jam, leaving no time for rest or strategy and no room for injury. The stakes were high, but we were ready.
During that second bout, we played cleaner, better, and harder than during our debut. The Iron Maidens won again, and this time no one accused us of cheating. I told myself that this was what mattered—the sport, the sweat, the thrill of doing what we loved because we loved it. I had to tell myself this, because when I took my place on the track and turned to the view the audience, most of the seats sat empty. Even as I skated, I could feel the dark tide rising.
There were some people in the audience—about fifty friends and a few die-hard fans—but for the most part, the curious had been satisfied. One bout was all they needed. If it were up to us, we would have kept skating, kept holding bouts, kept working hard, and trusted that our reputation would spread, that the crowds would return. We just needed time—time to practice, time to find some more women to join the league, time to stage a PR blitz of epic proportions.
But time was running out. Skate-a-Rama had been threatening to raise the league's rent, and we'd hoped the bout would generate enough profit to buy that time. We barely broke even. As the euphoria of our second bout faded—much more quickly than the first—different accusations surfaced. Why didn't anyone come? Whose fault was it? Fingers were easy to point and blame ripped through the league like wildfire, fracturing an already shaky alliance. Conversations were held in secret, items were discussed at length, and then a notice was posted to the message board.
"EMERGENCY MEETING THIS MONDAY NIGHT. 7PM. JAVA JACKS. ATTENDANCE IS MANDATORY."
Despite the two years I had sunk into the league, I was not the president, and despite the fact that I was one of the first women to join I was not a founder. This was clear as soon as I took my place at the long table in the back of Java Jacks and saw No Merci at the head, a large binder in front of her, her mouth set in a hard line.
"We're going to need to make some changes," she said. There would be no voting, no discussion. She jumped right into it. "The league isn't doing well. We're in serious debt, and as founder of the league, that means I'm in serious debt. It's time to reorganize, so that we can protect our assets." Under the new league organization, No Merci explained, she would be owner and president of the Nacogdoches Rollergirls. She would make all decisions about how the league was run, when and where we would bout, how much we would pay in dues. "We're losing skaters left and right because people are taking on too much and burning out," she said. "So I'll just do everything myself, and the rest of you can just show up and skate."
This did not go over well. A few people began to question No Merci, tentatively at first, and then gradually pressing harder. I sat in silence, unable to speak, and thought about how far No Merci's new vision of the league veered from what I believed to be the beauty of roller derby.
In addition to the physical triumphs I had experienced through the league, there had been other achievements. As league secretary, I taught myself to write a press release. I wrote articles about each of our bouts and saw them published in the sports section of the local paper. I attended countless meetings, learned to despise Robert's Rules of Order, and broke my habit of apologizing for everything. I was a different person, a better person, and it was because of roller derby.
By the skaters, for the skaters. It was a battle cry shouted by leagues across the nation, an idea embraced by skaters from California to New York. I loved this attitude almost as much as I loved roller derby, and to be told that all I had to do was "show up and skate"—well, it was worse than an insult. It was the antithesis of all I had worked toward for the last two years.
We tried to reason with No Merci, but nothing we said would make her change her mind. Thanks to roller derby, I had suffered countless ailments, both large and small. Dark bruises and scraped knees, minor concussions and cracked ribs. But none of that could compare to the pain I felt as I left that meeting, my face wet with tears, my hands clenched in rage, knowing that the end was near.
Many of the women present at the meeting, including me, quit that night. A few months later, after trying to regroup and replace us, the Nacogdoches Rollergirls officially disbanded, quietly and with little fanfare. Looking back, I understand what No Merci was trying to do. She wanted to save the league, and she was convinced that her plan was our only hope. Her intentions were good, her motives were honorable, but that was as far as she got. And when her plan fell apart, there was no one left to pick up the pieces.
While roller derby didn't survive in Nacogdoches, it continues to thrive in other places. At the time of this writing, there are nearly one thousand roller derby leagues across the United States and on every continent but Antarctica. There is a national governing organization known as WFTDA (the Women's Flat Track Derby Association) and an annual championship, during which the winners from regional tournaments compete for a national title. The number of roller derby names on the national registry is currently at 34,447 and a number of junior leagues have sprouted in the last few years, where girls as young as eight are already learning the ins and outs of the game.
I don't regret the two years I spent playing roller derby. In addition to meeting women who became lifelong friends, I finally figured out how to go agro. It was more than brute strength and smart skating. It was about knowing when to fight for something, and when to walk away.
I never got rid of my helmet, my pads, or my skates. They sit in a duffle bag in the attic, gathering dust. I dream sometimes, tell myself that one day, in a new town, with new women—maybe I'll skate again. Until then, it's enough to know that if anyone messes with me, I'm fully capable and totally prepared to send a shoulder into their rib cage and watch them fly across a room.