Derby Life: A Crash Course in the Incredible Sport of Roller Derby by Margot Atwell

I’ve been doing derby for 1.5 years now.   When I started I read Down and Derby and Roller Derby Athlete.  Down and Derby is a bit aged now.  It was written in 2010.  Roller Derby Athlete is more about the physical training aspects of derby.  If you’re interested in derby or joining derby, this book is a perfect introduction.  If you’re already in derby, this book will cover some things you already know, but there are a few new things I learned including a little bit more history, a bit more about how to keep motivated and avoid burnout which applies to all skaters and a section about committees and all the work off-skates which I just recently learned being elected head of events and fundraising in my derby league. 

 There isn’t much in the “Rules & Strategy” chapter about strategy like with the other books I’ve read, and perhaps it’s because it’s still relatively new.  But it could have talked about the Passive Offense or Rose City’s 3-1 formation with 1 offensive blocker and 3 defensive blockers, or 3 blocker shoring, or 2 blocker shoring, or tractor trailer, or water-falling, or eating the baby, or trapping goats, or screening. 

 The most compelling part was at the end where there are a dozen or so personal essays about derby and how it affected skater’s lives.  There were about three that were particularly touching and heartfelt.  I think the author should have placed these stories in between all the chapters instead of at the very end.  What I learned from the personal essays were very personal, intense stories of how derby helped people through extremely hard times, and how the term, “derby saved my life” rings true for many skaters.  In fact, it made me think more about my lifestyle.  Before derby I was going out drinking four to five nights a week.  After derby, I cut back to two or three, but perhaps I could cut back even further to one.  Derby is therapy, because it offers three things that will improve your life dramatically.  It offers fitness, a close social network, and an opportunity to think about and focus on something besides yourself and your own problems or struggles.  It reorients you toward the team and the league.  If all therapists told you to do these three things instead of drugs, people would be a lot better off and healthier.  On top of all that, because derby is so excruciatingly hard, it helps build your confidence and ability to confront and overcome any type of pain, discomfort, or hardship in life.  You learn how to push through the pain, to detach yourself from your ego, and to use a social outlook to overcome pain and hardship. 

 I honestly don’t know that much about my league mates.  Our relationships are pretty superficial, hanging out at practice or at after parties, so the personal stories allowed me to peek inside the mind of skaters and it was pretty intense.  Life is different for men and women, and women particularly have to grapple more with self-image, body-image, reputation, and sometimes for lack of a better term, cattiness.  In one story, a skater relays how another skater told her that derby may not be for her when she struggled through a practice.  In another story, a skater relays how she used to cut herself and harm herself, and derby helped her overcome that.  In another story, a skater became sober.  It is a pretty unique and powerful sport, especially for women, but now increasingly for guys too as well as people with alternate gender identity. 

 I’ve finished writing my own derby book that I’ll probably just self-publish.  It’s not an introduction to derby like this book but rather a novel/memoir of a guy joining a female-dominated sport and half the book gets into social commentary about gender roles and issues and oppression. 

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