Growing up with roller derby

Hi! My name’s Ruby and I skate with the intermediate skaters at Auld Reekie. I have been with ARRD for two and a half years now, after moving to Edinburgh for university. At twenty-one, I’m one of the youngest skaters in the Inters group, having been first introduced to roller derby at sixteen through a junior league.

My story is something of an outlier amongst the skaters at ARRD. Whilst roller derby is definitely growing in popularity in the UK, it still remains a sport that many don’t discover until adulthood – I know that I must have spent hours trying to explain roller derby for the first time to bemused friends and family! Meanwhile, those who do discover roller derby as children or teenagers often find that junior leagues are few and far between.

In my case, I was very lucky. Like many other skaters I know, I first became interested in roller derby after watching the 2009 film Whip It. The story of Ellen Page’s character, Bliss, resonated with me – I too was bored in my small hometown and wanted to throw myself into a hobby I cared about. After watching the film, I gushed to my parents about it, and to my surprise my dad told me that a “really tough woman” in his office played for a team in our nearest city. I was thrilled – I wanted to be a “really tough woman” too!

Whilst I’m not sure I could describe myself as “really tough” – even after nearly five years of skating – roller derby has had a huge impact on my life in other ways. For example, skating provided me with a distraction when I wasn’t enjoying school. During exam season or petty arguments with classmates, I now had the opportunity to take a step away and channel my frustrations into something totally unrelated. Even though I’m much happier now I’m at university, roller derby still plays a similar role. Skating helps me sleep well the night before a big exam and I’ve had some of my best essay ideas whilst skating laps!

Another significant impact roller derby has had on my life is that it introduced me to a number of positive role models. At sixteen, I had just begun to navigate the tricky process of deciding what kind of adult I aspired to be. Being surrounded by cool, confident women and non-binary people undoubtedly shaped my decisions. My coaches were competitive and aggressive, they took up space and they weren’t afraid to raise their voice and be a leader. With their support, I began to imagine a new idea of what “grown-up Ruby” could be like. Today, even though I’m (hopefully!) a bit closer to being a real grown-up, the friends I skate with still serve as role models. I feel very lucky to be so close with people at different stages of their lives to me, who I can turn to for advice.

As far as I’m concerned, there is only one downside to taking up roller derby as a junior skater – everyone expects you to be a child prodigy! Whilst my time playing junior derby definitely helped me through the Protostars programme when I joined ARRD, tactics and gameplay were as much of a learning curve to me as any new skater. If you’re reading this as an adult and you’re considering taking up derby, don’t be disheartened – it’s definitely not like football where you age out of the sport in your thirties!

Looking to the future, I hope that junior derby continues to grow and more children get the opportunity I did. That being said, I saw the Demonburgh junior skaters display their skills at a recent ARRD tournament and I am NOT looking forward to competing against them when they turn 18. Let’s just hope they choose to play for ARRD too!