Derby people like to talk about derby. In fact, if you're not a derby person and you've ever hung out with a derby crowd, chances are, it was not the most interesting conversation you've ever had in your life. Because, and now I'm talking to the derby peeps, let's be honest. Other than derby, what do we really talk about?
There's nothing wrong with talking about derby, since it is a sport that we love. No, it's more than that. According to a myriad of derby blog articles and everything every derby person has ever said, derby is more than a sport, it's more than a hobby and to be brutally honest, some of us are even lying when we call it a „lifestyle“. Yes, derby has the power of becoming even more than that. A lifestyle might be the house in which you live, the car you drive, the pets you have, the food you eat, the activities you engage in. If derby is your lifestyle, and you accept it as such, it might already seem a little… well, excessive to the outside world. But sometimes derby goes deeper than that. For some skaters, derby is their life. And this is where it gets problematic.
Roller Derby was my life for the past five years. I was an active member of two leagues in that time period and contributed as a skater, coach and admin. I was at practice at least three times a week, preparing practices, strategies and pre-game warm ups, planning and attending various league meetings, participating in boot camps and promoting derby in any kind of media that exists during most of my time. And I'm not talking about my free time. Derby crept into my school work, into my family life, into my outside-of-derby friendships. I missed the point of no return, the point when derby turned from being my lifestyle to being my life. I remember noticing that I wasn't going on vacations other than derby trips anymore. I stopped hanging out with my friends from school. I stopped thinking about anything else than derby. Derby became my life faster than I could say „Minimum Skills Test“. But who needed „real life“ anyway, when I had the coolest friends, the coolest sport, the possibility to travel all over Europe for games, something that made me feel freed from everything I'd ever known before? People don't lie when they say that derby saved their soul, that it made them a better person, that it helped them keep going, make new friends and find value in their selves.
Derby did all that. Derby swallowed me whole. It chewed me up real good until I had forgotten and abandoned the life I'd had before starting derby. But it was too „good“ to last. When I least expected it, it spit me back out. This can happen to everybody in a different way. Teammates sleep with your partner and/or bully you out of the league, your break a foot and can't skate anymore, you have to move away to a place where there's no derby, you are broke and can't afford league fees anymore, your family demands more time with you, you can't stand derby drama anymore or don't support the direction your league is going and decide to leave, you get too old… There are so many ways derby spits out people on a regular basis and yet nobody in the derby community talks about it. And this is where it's starting to get problematic.
Have you ever talked to your team mates, have you even thought about a life after derby? It is there. Life after derby is there, it's a real thing and it's waiting for you. There is no way around it. The problem is not the derby-less life itself. It's the way we prepare for it, or better, our lack of preparation. In the best case scenario, you're in a league that keeps in touch with their retired skaters and tries to include them into as many activities as possible. But from what I've heard, those are extremely rare. Derby is still such a young sport that we haven't really had to deal with this on a large scale yet. Chances are, your team will continue with or without you. Games will be played, meetings will be held, new merch will be ordered and just like an ordinary fan, you'll only learn about those developments when you show up for a game. The faces on the team will change, until there's nobody left there that you've once known. It'll be hard to hang out with your active derby friends, because they'll want to continue talking about derby. But the biggest problem will be the big fat, gaping hole that opens where before derby had filled empty spaces. What will you do with your free time? Will you continue working out even though you don't have a higher goal (like being fit for derby) anymore? Will you find a new sport? Will you make new friends? Where will you travel? What will you spend your money on? Will you support your team, will you be the number one fan or will it be too painful to see them do what you once loved doing so much that you defined yourself with it? What will you define yourself with now? You're not a derby girl anymore. So what are you, then?
'm not saying that we will all die the moment derby leaves us. We just have to be careful. The video „Shit derby girls say“ has a line in it, that is not as funny as you might first think. „I can't, I have derby“. It's true. We've all muttered that phrase at least once. Maybe we've shouted it out, loud, proud of being busy doing something so extraordinary. Surely, they'll understand. They know how much derby means to me. I can't miss a game for a wedding. They'll understand.
For some of us, this will go even further. I don't need to make friends at school/work. I've got much cooler friends at derby. I'm giving up on hobbies I used to have. That's okay, I've got a much more exciting hobby now.
Don't miss the point at which you lose not only your friends, but also yourself in derby. Have something ready to go back to, that makes you happy, outside of derby. This will not only be helpful in the transition time when you retire, but it'll make for a more healthy relationship with derby while you're still in it, too. Derby is a great part of one's life and I don't know of anybody who has not profited from it in one way or another. Speaking for myself, the best thing that could have happened to me five years ago was becoming a derby girl. Growing up in a small town, Derby offered the first glimpse into an exciting, amazing, empowering life that I had never seen before and made me realize that I can do stuff if I set my mind to it. Now, five years later, the best thing that could have happened to me, was derby leaving my life. First, it freed me, than it took all my liberty away. In the end, it spat me out in a very painful way that I hadn't seen coming. It felt like I had been pushed out of what used to be my life. Everything I had known before was suddenly gone. I went through all the stages of mourning and for months I didn't think I could get over the loss. But now I realize that it was not (only) my time in Derby that made me a stronger person. It was the time of withdrawal and having to battle with all those negative feelings when I truly found myself. Feeling fine when you're part of an awesome group of dedicated, strong women is easy. It's the moment when all of this suddenly leaves you and you find out that you can still go on, that you truly grow. Using all the strength and sense of accomplishment that derby gave me, I was forced to find out who I am, now that I was not a derby girl anymore. At first I felt like I was nothing. Derby had been my life, derby people had been my family and coaching had been my job; it felt like I had lost absolutely everything. But now, seven months later, I'm happy to report that I'm so many things. I'm a scientist, I'm a pilot, I'm a member of my family, I'm an element of a new circle of friends, I'm a writer, I'm a maker, and most importantly, I'm myself again.
For further information on retirement from Roller Derby, read this:
Retirement: Smoothing the Transition to Life After Derby