The Sisterhood of Roller Derby

Erin Blakemore - Boulder, Colorado
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, November 4, 2011
Erin Blakemore

Erin Blakemore felt lost, living in a new city and working an unfulfilling job. So on a whim she joined a local roller derby team. Although she hadn’t skated in years, Blakemore says the sport gave her the confidence to face life’s scariest challenges.

Age Group: 18 - 30

When I first stepped onto the rink, I had no idea that by strapping on some pads and snapping a helmet into place I’d be taking a step toward changing my whole life. Now I know better.

They’re secretaries and moms by day, but every woman who walks through the door of the Wagon Wheel roller rink has an alter ego. Sure, they masquerade behind funny names like Rockett and Ivona Killeau, but every skater in my roller derby league is an athlete in disguise, a rough-and-tumble, hard-core wonder woman who doesn’t fear putting her body in danger on a daily basis.

At first I didn’t think I would fit in. What does a bespectacled geek really have in common with a bunch of mean roller derby babes? To me, they were pinups on skates—sexy, powerful women with something to prove. That was before I started the grueling ritual of skating drills that taxed my body and my mind to the outer limits of endurance—and changed my insides to go along with my newly muscular frame.

Through months of training it became clear: I was unstable on my skates, but that wasn’t my only problem. I was too inhibited, a buttoned-up woman on the verge of a quarter-life crisis. I had just moved to a new state, ready to start a new life. Joining the roller derby was just another move in a long chain of flustered and floundering attempts to redefine myself in terms of what I could be rather than what I did for a living.

And I found I wasn’t alone. Through divorce, death, and bankruptcy, lost jobs and lost boyfriends, the women of the Denver Roller Dolls are there at the rink four times a week beating each other up—and building each other up. My roller persona, Audrey Rugburn, is no different—she doesn’t take no for an answer. She’s tough and selfish and undeniably strong. And before too long, her power started bleeding into my everyday life. I’ve gone from mistrusting my own instincts to knowing true confidence.

Some dismiss the roller derby as campy sports entertainment that’s past its prime. Others think that just because I skate in fishnets it’s not a real contact sport. But I laugh at these critics and others who have reared their ugly heads in the year since I’ve begun my transformation from doormat to derby queen. With the sisterhood and support of fifty other women, I know that whatever life flings my way will be skated over with pride and flair. After all, my alter ego is buff, brash, and rarin’ to go—even when my insides quiver like a set of sore thighs.

Sometimes, life’s scariest changes start with a bold external transformation. I’ve become one with Audrey Rugburn, a persona I trust, because she taught me to never doubt myself.

That’s why I believe in roller derby.

After cofounding the Denver Roller Dolls, Erin Blakemore hung up her skates in 2007. She lives and works in Boulder, Colorado, where she cheers on her sister skaters as a rabid roller derby fan. Ms. Blakemore’s debut book, The Heroine’s Bookshelf, was published by Harper in 2010.