When people hear that my daughter plays roller derby, I often get the same responses. "Like that hitting on skates thing?", "I didn't even realize they had junior roller derby.", "Wow. Your daughter must be really cool!". Honestly, all valid statements. The majority of the population still doesn't know about modern roller derby, and what they do know of the sport is derived from what they can remember seeing on their parents' TV in the late 70's / early 80's. And, about my daughter being really cool, they're right. Though, to be honest, she's always been cool, and roller derby is just more evidence of that. So, where am I going with this? Well, two years ago, I was looking for a sport my daughter could get involved in. She had tried her hand at dancing, gymnastics, and cheerleading, without any of them sticking. They just didn't hold her attention, and she never quite felt like she "fit in". At the time, she had bright red hair. Chose to read books over watch reality TV. And had divorced parents who were both relatively young, covered in tattoos, and cooler than the other kids' parents (OK, so maybe I took a little liberty with that last part.). Being a concerned father, I wanted her participating in some sort of non-school-based physical activity though. A chance to get out of the house, get some exercise, meet new people, and work as part of a team. So, I happened to stumble on the Atlanta Rollergirls, and eventually the Atlanta Derby Brats (now known as Atlanta Junior Roller Derby). I pitched the idea to my daughter and, even though she was hesitant to step outside of her comfort zone and walk into a room full of new people, she agreed to give it a shot.
And that is the moment when it all started to change. At that time, like most young teenagers, my daughter walked around with her head hung, or in a book. She was slowly starting to pull into herself & succumb to societies images of what a woman "should be". As she didn't fit this mold, I worried about her self image. Worried about how this would influence her future, and future relationships. And then here was roller derby. It was great. It was a chance for her to be around other girls her own age, being coached by women, in a sport built by women.
But, man, was that only the tip of the iceberg. Within weeks, I noticed a difference. She was excited about something again. She was working hard, setting and achieving difficult goals. You could see the confidence in the way she walked with her head held high. You see, I was hoping for the hard work, team building, and strength that comes along with team sports. What I hadn't accounted for though, was the incredible derby community. As I tell anyone willing to listen, on a regular basis, you would be hard pressed to find a group of women as strong, confident, hard working, caring, or diverse, as the ones we have met through roller derby. Through roller derby, my daughter has spent time with some of the most incredible women I have ever met. From all walks of life. And all who have one very important thing in common. Confidence. And this confidence is passed on to the young women they coach, or even just watch them. Silently learning by example what it means to be truly strong, driven, and confident. Through this community, she has met some of her closest friends. And even recruited some of her "non-derby" friends to join in. She has built relationships that will last her entire life, with both teammates, and the women who donate their time simply because of their love of this sport, and of the girls who will keep it going for years to come.
And it's not just my daughter who has benefited. Since she joined, I have begun assisting her trainers, eventually becoming one myself. This has given me additional quality time with her, that is a rare commodity for any single father. Especially a single father of a teenager... It's become something we get to share. Between the commutes to and from practices and bouts, the days together at Atlanta Rollergirls' events, or the time spent just skating together, I will be forever grateful to this community, and roller derby as a whole, for this time with my kid. Additionally, I didn't expect to get sucked into the community as much as I have. I have made some of my closest friends through this whole experience. Both derby players, and other juniors' parents. And, low and behold, I have also caught the bug. About a year ago, I was introduced to this group of guys walking around an ARG bout in matching purple shirts, and the next thing I knew, had joined the Atlanta Men's Roller Derby league. And I'm just as hooked as my daughter. Here is a group of men who are just as committed to this sport. Many of whom have dedicated years of their lives as refs, coaches, and volunteers, just to make sure the sport of women's roller derby could be as great as possible. Lucky for me, some of these men eventually wanted the opportunity to play the sport they loved so much, and founded leagues across the country, and eventually the world.
As adults, we rarely have the opportunities anymore to compete, be a part of a team, and set and achieve physically difficult goals. Roller derby has offered this opportunity to many of us. Add to that the friendships, sense of accomplishment, travel, and shared experiences with my daughter, and I have to say I have benefited every bit as much from my daughter's decision to give roller derby a shot as she has. So, in the words of the Atlanta Junior Roller Derby mantra...
I am confident on my skates. I work hard at everything I do. I help and support my fellow skaters. I LOVE ROLLER DERBY.