I’ve always been on the fringe. I’m not pretty or skinny enough to be the popular girl. I’m not conservative enough for my Catholic friends but I’m not liberal enough for the rest of my other friends. I’m too feminine for most feminists but too feminist for everyone else. From a very young age I’ve never really felt like I fit in.
Growing up, I was lucky enough to have parents who pretty much let me do everything that I wanted to do to “find myself.” This included several abandoned hobbies: sailing, horseback riding, tee-ball, choir, theatre, and soccer to name a few. I remember being in middle school gym class and being offered a spot as a kicker on the boy’s football team. Eight years of soccer had earned me the nickname “Big Foot,” but even at such a young age I was both aware and terrified of what playing with the boys could mean, and at the time I didn’t care enough about football to find out how people would react.
The thing is, these abandoned loves broke me down too often be a very easily discouraged person. Internally, I knew that I was a smart, strong, capable girl. I always did very well in school, so it didn’t make sense that this same determination and natural ability wasn’t translating over to my other interests. When I couldn’t easily master the next level of my sailing training, or I had a hard time making friends in my horseback riding program, I just quit and moved on to something else. Ages 5-16 were nothing but a sampler platter of extracurriculars for me.
What this eventually led to was my love affair with roller derby. As a college student, I worked on the residence life staff–yet another “fringe activity” for me. One of my neighbors played on a roller derby team, so as a hall we went to boot camp together one night. I was immediately enamored. For the first time in a long time, I had met a fun, welcoming group of people who actually seemed like the kind of girls I would want to spend time with. And they were tough. I went to a few games over the next three years, but I realized I didn’t have the time or money to get involved.
It wasn’t until a year after graduation that roller derby and I met again. This time, it was at a pretty low point in my life. After a fruitless job hunt in Houston, I moved sixteen hours away to a new city. I had no friends, no family, and I was still trying to recover from yet another painful breakup. For the first time in my life, I was really alone. All I had was work, so on a whim I decided to see if my city had a team I could get involved with. At a time that I needed to feel wanted, these women accepted me.
Currently, roller derby is the fastest growing sport in the country. What started as a mostly kitschy, theatrical event has rapidly evolved into a highly athletic sport that is rumored to be featured in the 2020 Olympics amidst fierce debates over legitimizing the sport. More than a sport though, roller derby has become a community, a culture, and a way of life. Because it isn’t a professional federation like the NFL or NBA, everything you see at a bout is the result of endless hours of work put in by the skaters and officials. Most skaters also function as coaches, promoters, and board members and they are doing it without pay on their own time.
My team, like all others, is filled with every kind of woman (and a few men). You can be white, black, gay, straight, bi, trans, fat, skinny, poor, rich, tattooed, or whatever you want, as long as you are ready to have fun and work your ass off. It kills me that I wasted so many years trying to fight who I am to fit in and be successful at things I clearly was not made for, and here’s a team of women I hardly know who welcome me with a “hey beautiful!” and the occasional beer. What the hell was I doing?!
Over the past year, I’ve been training as an announcer and absolutely loving it. I spent a long time as a teenager feeling ashamed of my voice because I thought it was much deeper than a girl’s voice should be. As it turns out, with a little bit of confidence (and a lot of studying!) I make a pretty decent sportscaster. For me, roller derby is a fringe sport for fringe people, and I like it like that. Is it perfect? No. Is there drama? Sure, sometimes. After all, humans play it. But, it’s a unique, competitive sport where my authentic self is both welcomed and valued, so I guess that’s worth a potential future concussion to me.
Disclaimer: Roller derby is a real, full contact sport and injuries DO happen. If you are interested in joining a team, please do so through WFTDA or other federations.
Kailey is an aspiring sex/sports/inmate rehabilitation therapist with a collegiate background in psychology, theology, and English. She’s an avid lover of headbands and all things glittery. Currently her time is spent looking for a new job (she’s a youth minister right now) and packing her apartment (she’s coming back to Houston). To hear more of her sassy thoughts on gender roles, feminism, sports, dating, and music, connect with her @ComeAtMeBreaux. She’s fabulous, but she’s evil.
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