Written by Jen Offord

Health

Let’s Get Physical: Roller Derby

One-time couch potato Jen Offord is now a fully-fledged sportsaholic. In the spirit of #thisgirlcan she’s trying out different activities for Standard Issue. This week she’s one double-hard woman on wheels. And knees.

Brighton Rockers roller derby team

The Brighton Rockers team look forward to getting their hands on Jen. Photo by John Hesse.

 

For some time now, I have had something of an appreciation for double-hard women. It’s an affection I can trace back to my teenage years, I suspect in part mostly because my 15-year-old self genuinely believed supporting Charlton Athletic and watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer would give me some street cred with my older brothers. Oh the irony. Perhaps this sort of latent passive aggression was acceptable in a teenager, finding her way in the world, though I wonder how cool it is for a 32-year-old to aspire to Julia Stiles’ character in 10 Things I Hate About You. Meh, I shrug as I add another Fiona Apple song to my ‘Sasha Fierce’ playlist. And this week I’ve decided to try out one of the ultimate bad gal sports: roller derby.

For those unacquainted with roller derby, the basic idea is thus: a game consists of two minute ‘jams’ in which one at a time, ‘jammers’ take it in turns to race a member of the opposing team around the track and through a pack of ‘blockers’. Each time the jammer skates through the pack, she scores a point for every opposing player she passes.

The sport has a reputation for tiny shorts, girl fights, and music by Blink 182, but I’m familiar with a team, for whom my childhood pal Emma ‘the Condemner’ skates, so I know better than this. I’ve seen these guys skate a couple of times, and they’re pretty serious sportists. Emma has always been athletic, but I’ve seen her transform into a steely-thighed warrior in the last year or so. I mean, she’d probably beat Beyoncé in a thigh-off, and I don’t make claims like that lightly. Though I would give almost any sum of money to have Emma’s derby-physique, the Brighton Rockers deliberately steer clear of the perception that the sport exists for the purposes of putting one in the bank for green-haired teenagers.

Jen Offord taking part in roller derby

‘Smasha Fierce’ demonstrates her flawless knee-drop technique. At one mile per hour.

As for scrapping, it’s clearly a fact of life that if you engage in the act of skating towards a wall of humans who’d rather not let you past, you’re going to end up on your arse/limbs/face once or twice, possibly in a tangled bloody mess of other people.

There’ll be none of that this evening though, as I’m thankfully only trying a taster session ahead of the Rockers’ forthcoming Fresh Meat programme to find new players. Regardless, I find myself adopting my self-appointed derby name ‘Smasha Fierce’ and casually signing my life away to the insurance gods (I’m going to say I’ve never had a head injury, because it was quite a long time ago, now).

The biggest issue will be not having skated for 17 years. I used to go to Colchester Rollerworld quite a bit as a yout’, because it was one of few places where we could buy alcohol. I reckon I used to be all right at skating, but perhaps I was just giddy on Archers and lemonades or the PA by EastEnders hunks du jour, the di Marco brothers. I was hoping I’d get back on wheels and glide gracefully, but the years, it seems, have been most unkind and I’m truly a terrible skater. I’m terrified of being torn asunder by losing control of the skates and rolling into an involuntary split or, more likely given that this is probably impossible, falling over. So rather than gliding, I’m pretty much walking, an aesthetic not dissimilar to Phoebe Buffet running.

The way to deal with this, I’m told, is to skate in a squatting position (this is where the steely thighs come from) so your weight is distributed forwards: if you fall on your arse, that hurts, unlike if you fall on your super-padded knees. Now fall on your knees, I’m instructed. Not being funny, like, but fuck off, I think to myself. After quite a bit of coaxing by multiple Rockers, I have a go at falling, sure that this will be the head injury to end it all and, in unsurprising news, it doesn’t hurt my padded knees.

On this revelation, falling becomes my default action: I can’t get enough of rolling across the track on my wheels (I’m definitely rolling, not skating), giggling maniacally as I throw myself to the floor at the heady speed of approximately one mile per hour. It’s the safest course of action, so whenever we try to do other things, like learn how to slow down, or stop or fall on one knee, I throw myself on the ground instead.

Brighton Rockers roller derby team

They look so friendly for a team in search of ‘Fresh Meat’. Photo by John Hesse.

 

The Rockers look incredible, at such ease doing what they do, and as I have noticed with a lot of sports practised at high level, with a gracefulness that it’s hard to imagine comes from a bunch of people who are effectively skating into each other at speed. It’s a brilliant spectator sport, and the only sport I have seen my friend of 27 years, Vera, get excited about watching.

I’m still slightly alarmed about the prospect of injury in this game, because I’m a total wuss, but my god, do I want to be a roller derby skater. Maybe this will be my next wheel-related challenge.

http://www.brightonrockers.com

http://inspireajen.com

@inspireajen

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Written by Jen Offord

Jen is a writer from Essex, which isn’t relevant because she lives in London, but she likes people to know it. As well as daft challenges, she likes cats, cheese and Beyonce. @inspireajen