When I first started playing roller derby (a contact sport played on roller skates) as an 11-year-old, I didn’t know how to skate. I could barely make it one lap around the track in my rental skates. Fast forward to last summer–my team and I made it to the national championships in Colorado. I think it’s safe to say that I’ve come a long way during the past four years—not just as a skater, but as a person. Roller derby has been one of the most empowering forces in my life, and it’s contributed significantly to who I am today.
I first found roller derby because there was a game happening in my neighborhood, and my mom got our whole family to check it out with her. I’ve never been a sports person, but as soon as I walked into the venue I could tell that roller derby was different, and not just because it’s played on roller skates. It’s the atmosphere of roller derby that makes it so special. It’s the intimate connection the fans have with the team, the cool nicknames everyone gets to choose for themselves, the insider language, and the clear love of the sport every single person in the room feels. As soon as I understood the rules I fell in love with the sport. And lucky for me, the league was setting up a Juniors league right at that time. I signed up right away and have been playing ever since.
The rules of roller derby are fairly simple. Five members from each team go onto the track at one time. Four of those players are blockers, and the remaining player is the point scorer, known as the jammer. When the whistle blows, the jammer tries to get through the other team’s blockers. Each pair of hips she passes earns her a point. The blockers try to block the other team’s jammer, while simultaneously playing offense for their own jammer. It’s a heavy contact sport, but there are many rules in place to keep gameplay clean and the skaters safe. Players who break rules get sent to the penalty box.
Playing roller derby has taught me how to get up when I fall, and how to keep pushing even when I’m exhausted. I’ve become more confident, more communicative, and more positive. I’ve learned how to set goals for myself and work as hard as I can until I reach them. I’ve become more of a team player.
I’ve also learned that even if I’m not the best at something, it’s important that I just do my best and enjoy the experience. At my high school everything (both academics and extracurriculars) is competitive because we all want to be the star, so colleges will notice us. Enjoyment takes a back seat. This leads to an attitude that if you’re not the best at something, then there is no point in doing it. The subversion of this attitude is one of the best aspects of derby. I’m not even close to the best, but I still do it because I love it. And the supportive team-based environment of roller derby has always been a reminder that roller derby isn’t about being the star, it’s about having fun, and working together.
Roller derby is also one of the most feminist environments I’ve ever been in. I’m surrounded by coaches, teammates, and derby-moms, who are some of the most badass, hard-working people I know. My team is co-ed, and plays in the open (co-ed) division, but my female teammates and I are never made to feel less than our male teammates. If anything, it’s the opposite. Being on a roller derby team, regardless of gender, makes you feel tough and capable of holding your own. My relationship with my teammates has also given me one of the most powerful examples of sisterhood in my life. Working together with my “derby sisters” and being so much stronger together than we are individually, truly makes me feel unstoppable. Our sisterhood extends off the track too, and I know I can always depend on my teammates.
I’m so grateful to have roller derby in my life. Derby has helped me boost my confidence and grow into a strong and empowered young woman. I love having a truly feminist, uplifting space filled with amazing women. Looking back at the person I was back when I started playing roller derby, I’m astonished at how far I’ve come. Now, as I look forward, I can’t wait to see how my derby career continues to shape who I am.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Rosman, Josephine. "Derby Girl." 16 February 2018. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 29, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/derby-girl>.
Go Josie! I have to come see one of those sometime.
Great article. You really are a rock star:)
Fantastic piece! Wish I'd had roller derby in my life as a klutzy kid who feared sports. Always feel I missed out by not having played on a team. Can I still come up with a cool nickname????
This was awesome, Josie!! Roller derby is so cool