I’ve been around for a while. I’m an OG (Original Gangsta.) I joined the Atlanta Rollergirls in early 2005, back when we were a bunch of women teaching each other how to stand up and roll forward on skates. I’ve seen a lot of changes to derby, to ARG, and to individual skaters in the past decade. By now, if you’re reading this blog, you probably already know the narrative of roller derby- the game evolved from spectacle to serious athleticism, there used to be fishnets and a penalty wheel, staged fights, and dance offs. Throughout all those changes, rollergirls learned the value of perseverance, teamwork, and pushing their limits. It’s a beautiful story, and one that gets told quite often.
What you may not know is what a skater learns off the track. Our league is a business, and each skater plays a part in running that business. Over the past ten years, I’ve been an ombudsperson, a recruiter, on the rules committee (back when we had to write the rules of the game ourselves), a trainer, and a marketer. The life/employment skills I learned from those positions set me up to get out of the cycle I was in and reach higher. I got my first “big girl job” as a result of the skills I learned and connections I made through derby.
In late 2004 – early 2005, I was a HOT MESS. I was smoking, drinking, ending up in strange places with even stranger people. My days and weeks blended together- work, party, party, work, party at work, leave work to go party- bouncing from questionable job to even more questionable job. I would stay up all night and go to work without even taking a disco nap. I saw the sun rise almost every morning before calling it a night.
I got a real job in 2007, and using skills I learned from the business side of derby, I parlayed my way into promotion after promotion. I’m now a copywriter in a university marketing division and am diving into writing a play. I perform with the best improv troupe in the city. And of course, I’m a roller derby announcer. This is on top of the fact that I’m 34 and in the best shape of my life. It’s incredible the difference a decade makes- especially if that decade is filled with the kind of education you can’t get from books.
A decade of derby taught me:
Perspective. No matter how much I think I know, I’ve still got a lot to learn. That being said, ten years of watching patterns makes me pretty good at predicting the future.
Organizational skills. Forget job training- I learned everything I know about computers, the internet, spreadsheets and getting stuff done from roller derby committee work. I even put it on my resume. Potential employers are impressed that I was part of the committee that relocated the league from a roller rink to the Shriner’s Auditorium.
You get more flies with honey. Any time I’ve been involved in sticky situations, I learned nothing good has ever come from a negative attack on something. Starting discussions with a positive goal usually yields good results for everyone involved.
Political skills. ARG wasn’t always the well-oiled machine it is now. Growth inevitably means change, and making change happen involves an organized campaign. Gotta get people on board!
Tolerance. Man, sometimes I just don’t like someone, but I have to put up with them. It happens. And sometimes stuff happens that I don’t like and I just kind of have to deal with it. That also happens.
Details are important. I’m a big picture, creative thinker, so it was hard to be a part of conversations discussing the minutiae of attendance policies and league bylaws. But I’m glad I was- I have to be detail oriented at my job now, and the only reason I can be is because of derby.
Networking. When somebody says, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” they’re obviously talking about the rollergirl network.
Roller derby isn’t just about the skating, camaraderie, and after parties. It’s about turning a disaster of a person into a smart, talented, and driven businesswoman. If, in Feb. of 2005 when I showed up to that first practice in jeans and a T shirt, you’d have told me derby was going to put me on the road to working in an office and waking up around the same time I used to go to bed, I never would have believed you. Now, I simply can’t believe I was such a wreck, and was still able to mostly pay my rent on time.