Three times in the past three weeks I have fallen hard on my rear end. And yet, I keep going back for more. Am I a masochist? Am I losing my mind? Nope, I’m in a beginner Derby Lite Class with a whole bunch of other women who just want to get some exercise that’s fun and different.
Some people think I’m too old and fragile to be skating, let alone learning derby moves. My answer to that is everyone in the class risks getting hurt, no matter what her age. That’s why we wear all kinds of protective gear. Knee and elbow pads, wrist guards, mouth guards and helmets.
I AM the oldest woman in the class, but Linda Clark, aka Poke A. Dot, isn’t far behind me.
She’s the one who talked me into trying the class. She’s been skating since January and this is her fifth beginner class. She’s also taking an intermediate class and working toward being an instructor. I don’t have such ambitions. I just want to learn how to stop and fall so I don’t hurt myself.
Derby Lite was founded in 2007 by a retired roller derby player. On the Derby Lite website it says Derby Lite provides “roller skating for fun and fitness for women old enough to know better.”
We learn to skate derby style, but without the high impact and competition. Class begins and ends off skates with warm-up exercises and cool-down stretches. The rest of the 90 minutes we are in protective gear and on skates.
Our instructor in Portland is retired from Maine Roller Derby. If you’re a roller derby fan, you might recognize her — Olive Spankins. This is what Olive has to say about Derby Lite: “It’s one of those things in life where the reward is there when you face your fears and survive and thrive. I know in the beginner class everybody is so tentative because it’s all brand new stuff. But you see everyone, mostly, leaving with smiles on their faces, because they have decided to be like, ‘ok I’m going to do it.”‘
Poke A. Dot is Olive’s mother. When Olive was a kid, she would drive her and her friends to the skating rink. No invitation to join them, it was just drop us off and pick up, Mom. Decades later, it was Olive who encouraged her mother to try Derby Lite. “I believe any woman can be in the class,” she says. ”All you have to do is have the desire. I just knew that she was going to love it and I think she does.”
Each week we do derby drills. I DO NOT want to do them. Dot understands. She didn’t want to do them either. She told me she would do them begrudgingly and then feel exhilarated afterwards. That’s how I feel. Example of a derby drill: Get in line an arms length away from the woman in front of you. Keep that distance while you skate. Try not to fall. When the whistle blows, if you’re at the front of the line move to the side and then to the back of the line. Try to slow down, try not to fall. So much pressure!
Get into derby stance, knees bent, body low. Fall forward on one knee, and the other and quickly get up. Diane gets into derby stance, or so she thinks, and falls backwards on her butt. She gets up as quickly as she can, glides forward a few feet and falls backwards on her butt. It was just the first class. She decided she wouldn’t be back.
A week later, there I am in class. We practice stopping. Instead of doing the toe stop, I repeatedly do the skate toward the railing and grab it stop. We practice falling and once again, instead of on my knees, I land on my butt, which is still sore from the week before. However, I WAS able to balance on one leg while skating. Even split seconds count.
The third week I managed to fall somewhat correctly on my knees the one time I tried it, and didn’t fall on my butt at all. That was a huge victory!
I am not the only one in class who falls. Ashlee Norwood has and she is many, many years younger than I am. She told me she joined because she wants “to be badass and be a roller derby girl and also exercise and be healthy.” She was my inspiration during the last class, because even though she is just learning to skate, she doesn’t give up. We were both scared about the suicide skate drill — you skate, fall, skate, turnaround and do it again. She just went out there and did it and gave me the courage to get right behind her. Ashlee’s friend Kate Finchley, who is also in the class, is convinced Ashlee’s going to be a roller derby girl. “She will do it because she is actually the worst person in class, so she’s going to end up being the most improved.”
Our fellow skaters are all ages, all sizes, and with different skill levels. Laura Connolly has taken the beginner class three times. “I keep coming back because it’s awesome,” she told me. “The ladies are great, the exercises are great, and Olive is great.”
Choosing a derby name
Laura’s derby name is Frecks Ya Life, because she has lots of freckles. Poke A. Dot just likes polka dots and Olive Spankins always loved the name Olive and Spankins seemed to fit. I don’t have a derby name yet, but I certainly think I deserve one just for trying. And it won’t be something like Diana Sore Bum. It will be a derby name that does me proud!
Disclosure: I’ve partnered with Harvard Pilgrim on this sponsored post, but the thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. You can find more ways to be well at HarvardPilgrim.org/CountUsIn.