It's much safer behind the notebook. Much safer than a world of can openers and rink rash and knee gaskets. Both are immensely rewarding.
Being a reporter is an awesome job. Sure, people are suspicious and judge your every word and move, the pay's not great, and you often work nights, weekends and holidays. Still, every day, you get to throw yourself completely into a new subject or issue and pick the brains of the people who know all about it.
This is how I discovered the Rocktown Rollers. I'd heard about a women's flat track roller derby team and wanted to do a story about it. I dove into interviews with Troch, Janna-cide and Betty Crasher, and wrote this feature, which ran last Easter. (Pat Jarrett and I put this video together, too.) Yes, the story includes the "by day, by night" cliche (Sorry, guys.), but I was impressed by the team's dedication to dispel negative stereotypes about the sport and launch the league into the national sphere.
I've never enjoyed sports before, but had to get in on this team. Amazingly enough, they let me.
I began Fresh Meat training at the end of April 2010, the same day as Revenga d'Nerd. It took months and months of practicing falls, hits and skating techniques before I was allowed to skate with a pack. Slowly, the milestones came: Surviving a J-block from Janna-cide, helping goat Betty Crasher behind a pack. By the time of my first interleague scrimmage at Season's Beatings that December in Richmond, I felt ready. (For the record, I still played like a freshie. It was an awesome day anyway.) I've played four bouts with RTR now. We've won two of them. I have a long way to go (damn 180-toe stops), but look back proudly on the skills I've developed and the strategies I've learned.
It's not all fun and bouts. When you work closely with so many strong women, you make deep friendships and ride out uncomfortable conflicts. You suffer together.
On the day Kitten Vicious — who joined our team a month earlier, and whom I had adopted as a big sister — died, I cried at work. Then I wrote an obituary for her in the newspaper. Then I read it to my teammates and spent the evening with them, consoling and being consoled. The rest of the derby community followed suit. I had emerged from behind the notebook and became part of a team, an international family.
At first, I chose the derby name Mia Feral after the tough elegant horror queen Mia Farrow, but just as I was beginning to answer to Mia, a player of the same name in Rose City asked me to cease and desist. I became Tallulah Bankrobber, an homage to the bawdy, adventurous classic Hollywood starlet Tallulah Bankhead. I was included on the magazine cover for another journalist's derby story. I became Rocktown's Treasurer, joined the board of directors and have help kick start the team's process toward federal nonprofit status. It's hours of outside work, meetings and decision making, but it's collaboration and problem solving that effects the team I love, the one that made my city a hometown.
I love the person I've become since starting derby. I've got an outlet for my sass, and appreciation for my ass. I never would have worn shorts as short as I wear them. I've never felt like such a woman before, and certainly not an athlete. My friends and teammates are so different, and I love them for their differences. And I love who they've helped me to become.