Diary of a Redliner: So you think you want to hit people…

Our Training and Recreation program is divided up into three levels, each named after a line on Boston’s T: the Red line, Green line, and C Team (T-Wrecks). As skaters progress, they move up each level and learn new roller derby and skating skills. To help prospective skaters get a sense of our program, we asked current Redline skater Kat Setzer if she would keep a blog as she goes through the program. Here’s her first entry.

Last week, I helped out at Boston’s introductory skating clinic—prospective skaters have to attend a few before joining TRT. It makes me a little nostalgic, even though I only started with the Training and Recreation program (TRT) back in November. I think often back to those days of yore, when I first bought my skates and called my mother, who responded: “Are you in cahoots with an orthopedic surgeon or something?” (To her credit, I’d called her a few weeks before to tell her I was thinking of trying to pull a truck.)

Now, meeting the new Boston recruits, it’s interesting to see who thinks this will be the sport for them. Roller derby players can come from just about anywhere: There are teachers and personal trainers and computer programmers, moms and people who hate children and cat ladies, girls with tattoos and girls with pigtails and girls with tattoos and pigtails. Etc.

New skaters—myself included—often worry about how much experience they need to get involved with BDD. Turns out, not a lot. After all, most of us didn’t play roller derby as wee lasses. The modern version of our sport is just about ten years old; it’s unlikely to see it in a college or well-funded school program. As such, most players don’t come in with a competitive edge unless they transferred from another roller derby league or have some sort of skating background.

For me, derby was a sport I could get involved in specifically because of its relatively level playing field. I didn’t feel like I could jump into a different recreational sport, where no doubt many had been playing their sport of choice since their Underoo days.

To give you some perspective, a little under a year ago I strapped on a pair of quad roller skates for the first time in ages. No, I wasn’t one of those people who “hasn’t skated in ages” but rollerblades everywhere: The last time I touched a pair of quads, I was fifteen and convinced I could become an aggressive skater by going in circles around the cul-de-sac where my family lived. (Reality: I ran into a lot of garage doors.)

Last summer, some friends decided to attend a Boston bout up at Shriners auditorium, and I went along. And if you’ve ever been to a Boston bout, you’ll know: It’s easy to get hooked on roller derby. It’s a sport for all shapes, all sizes, and built from the ground up by women.

Soon, a work friend and I were wobbling around on brown and orange rental skates at a rink straight from my Barbie-skates childhood: black lights, constellations painted on the walls in neon colors, children dodging every which way, carrying some sort of plastic blinking choking hazards in their mouths.

Boston’s TRT program accepts new skaters every three months. By the time the next recruitment cycle opened, I could get around the rink one full revolution without falling. That was enough to get me on the Redline path, and so my derby career began.

At the clinic last weekend, I watched and helped our coaches take skaters through basic skills (falling, stopping, etc) to assess their safety and help new recruits see what an average practice is like. Usually, the coaches take most everyone from the clinic into the program, though they may occasionally ask someone who can’t stand on their skates to take a couple months, get comfortable at a roller rink, and re-apply during the next cycle.

Once accepted, recruits begin a three-month training cycle in Red or Greenline. In Redline, you work on basic skating skills as well as on agility, endurance, and learning to skate as a group. Just like any skill, some people take to skating right away; others have a bit more difficulty. That’s why coaches assess skaters at the end of the three-month cycle, to see if they’ve progressed enough to start learning the contact and derby skills required for scrimmaging (read: hitting and being hit). Some are, some aren’t. But that’s okay! If your basic skills aren’t quite up to snuff, you can always stay in Redline for another session. I did, as did several friends in my class. And not only have I learned a lot the second time around, but I now can help newer Redline skaters on the skills I do feel confident with.

That’s what TRT is: a place to learn, feel comfortable, and help our peers. Our coaches want us to push ourselves, but it’s all relative: You don’t have to be as good as a former speed skater or lifetime rollerblader to play roller derby. You just have to want to skate.

NEXT TIME: Kat writes about gear, and an average day at Redline practice.

Diary of a Redliner: So you think you want to hit people…