Never did I imagine that at the ripe old age of 40 I would find, and begin to play, any sport let alone Roller Derby.
Though I roller and ice skated as a kid, my roller derby journey begins with the obligatory viewing of ‘Whip It!’ and thinking to myself ‘that looks like so much fun – I want to have a go’.
There was one false start which involved a Google search, finding the Shoetown Slayers web page, looking at the photos of nubile young ladies cavorting around on skates, and thinking to myself there is no way they are going to want an old, unfit bird like me.
Fast forward 7 months and while perusing my Facebook news feed I see a post from a (over 40) friend, saying how much fun roller derby is. I immediately messaged her with a ton of questions, where are you skating, who with, when do you go, how can I get me some skatey action?
To cut the long(ish) story short I attended my first roller derby session on 13th July 2012 and from the moment I strapped on those Rio Rollers I fell in love with all things derby.
That’s not to say there have not been some speed bumps in my derby path – some bigger than others!
I’m lucky as my league already had a few ‘vintage’ members so I wasn’t exactly blazing a trail for us older skaters. But for me personally the last year been both amazing and challenging in equal measures. Fitness and more specifically stamina have been something I have really had to work on. After completing Fresh Meat and starting our Intermediate course it very soon became apparent that I was in dire need of some off-skates exercise. So I started running again, this was a big thing for me as I am inherently lazy, so getting up an hour early every other day to go out for a run was hard, and my poor dog, who gets to accompany me on my runs whether she wants to or not, I’m sure thinks I’m mad. But I did it and eventually I started to see the improvement it made to my stamina especially when I finally managed 25 in 5 after being stuck on 24 for a long time.
Soon, all anyone could talk about at practice and on Facebook was ‘minimum skills testing’, the elusive 25 in 5 and team tryouts. It was hard work, but all the off-skates torture rewarded me in January last year and I not only passed my minimum skills, I also made the team along with my derby wife Pulp Friction (AKA Harri), who at 25 was born the year I started my A-levels!
Harri and I have progressed at roughly the same rate throughout our derby journey so far, there are things she is better than me at and vice versa, but we passed our minimum skills and made the team at the same time, age – young or old does not come into it, when you are on track all kitted up, game face on, you cannot tell who’s still a teenager or who is heading down hill towards their pension at break-neck speed.
A problem that I think most of us vintage skaters struggle with is injuries, it’s just a fact of life that as you get older your body can’t take the punishment it will when you’re younger, and when you do get injured it seems to take forever to recover. Obviously the solution to this is to improve your fitness and strength to reduce the chance of getting injured in the first place, but also give your body the time it needs, returning from an injury too soon is a surefire way of keeping you off your beloved skates for even longer.
Derby/life balance is something I have to think about constantly, having two boys and a husband to consider every time you want to go and watch a bout, do a boot camp or even go to practice can sometimes make this hard. My husband sometimes gets home late after working all day in London for me to be waiting at the door kit in hand and saying ‘your dinner’s in the microwave, I’m off to practice’. But I know that my family support me in my derby journey and I couldn’t do it if they didn’t (much love to all the derby widows out there).
I like to think that I don’t use my age an excuse not to do something. I WANT to play derby and if that means I have to do off-skates to keep up with the younger girls then that’s what I will do.
The last year has been an amazing roller coaster of derby adventures, there are some days after an intense practice or punishing off skates session that I wake up and feel as if I’m 82 not 42! But each one of the aches and pains reminds me how lucky I am to play this fabulous sport with the lovely ladies of The Northampton Shoetown Slayers.
I also know that the coaches and other girls on the team treat me, and the other vintage skaters, no differently than the younger skaters, they hit us as hard, chase us as fast and push us to be better skaters at every practice.
So what advice do I have for any over 40s’ thinking about starting Roller Derby – do it, and do it now, you wont regret it, what’s the worst that can happen? You try it once and realise it’s not for you and never put skates on again OR you could just find the sport you’ve been looking for all these years, a sport that is inclusive not exclusive, that no matter what your age, weight or sexual preference you will find your place in roller derby, be that All Star player, B-teamer, Ref, NSO or supporter.
It’s time for us vintage players to show these young whippersnappers what us olds can do!
See you on the track
All photographs on this page taken at an ‘Over 40s’ mixed bout and copyright of Jason Ruffell (unless otherwise stated) – www.roller-derby-on-film.co.uk
Words by Toxic Jynx.
A version of this article was published in Issue #8 of Lead Jammer magazine, and is re-used with kind permission.
Click on the thumbnail to see it as it was formatted and published in LJ.