Sunday, July 11, 2010

Talk derby to me!

I finally got to watch my lovely wife, Jennifer (Genghis Mom, her official Derby Name) skate with some of her teammates at an exhibition at the Marshall County Fair yesterday.

She was awesome. (I took the crappy cell-phone photo at left yesterday.) While it wasn't a bout (their first one is coming up on Saturday), it was an opportunity for the fledgling league to showcase their skills, talents and, um, short skirts. They were a big hit. In fact, several young fair beauty pageant winners sat next to me and the (very thrilled) 12-year-old and asked so many questions about roller derby that I eventually sent them to a team member, who gave them some information on how to join up.

This wasn't her first exhibition, but it was the first one I have attended (the last one was at the same time as a Little League tournament 40 miles away).

I have to admit, I've become a huge fan over the past couple of months. I knew little about roller derby, other than some fuzzy memories of those crazy 70s teams that wore lots of nylon and faked all of their moves (remember Raquel Welch in Kansas City Bombers?).

Roller derby today is very different.

Today's Derby Girls (as they prefer to be called) are athletic, skilled and hard-working. They take their sport seriously. It's dangerous and damned difficult. In the three months of our league's existence, there have been countless bruises and cuts, two broken ankles, a broken tailbone and one broken neck. Seriously! It's not for the faint of heart.

But the most fascinating thing for me has been watching what it's done for Jennifer.

She is a features editor at the newspaper where I worked. It's a hard, stressful job with crappy pay and long hours. She's also president of the Newspaper Guild local (the union that represents journalists and other newspaper workers). That also is hard and time-consuming, not to mention thankless as hell. I was also a reporter and editor there and was president of the same local (we are the only husband-and-wife presidents in the local's 50-plus year history), so I know what I'm talking about.

Many of you know that times are tough for newspapers these days. Very tough. Between a crushing economy, piss-poor ownership and rapidly declining readership, our beloved newspaper is circling the drain. Many have lost their jobs over the past three years. It's been horrific to watch, since these people are friends of ours.

When I voluntarily left three years ago, I was so burned out I felt like I was 100 years old. It's amazing how much better I feel these days, despite the stresses of trying to get a novel published. It's not even close to the stress I experienced in journalism.

As I was recovering from journalism, I knew I needed something I could be passionate about, something that would give me the personal satisfaction I needed. I found that passion in fiction writing. It's been a blessing to me, believe me, even though I bitch and moan about it. It's literally saved my life. Getting a chance to pursue my dream is, well, a dream come true.

I've watched the toll journalism has taken on my lovely and usually optimistic wife. She's come home and cried too many times to count over the last three years. It's been a trying time for those poor souls at newspapers, both here and around the nation. Add in the fact that the union has been busting its ass to save people's jobs, often without success, and you can imagine the amount of stress she's been under.

Enter roller derby.

She has fallen head-over-heels in love with the sport. It's hard and violent and the perfect outlet for all of that stress. Jennifer has never been what one could call athletic, but she's all in for this. She's joined my gym and works out like a pro. She hits all of the practices and sweats and bleeds for her sport.

She's my new hero.

It's been like a tonic for her. She's found something to be passionate about, something she enjoys with ever fiber of her bruised and battered little body.

As I watch her, I can't help but equate it with my own dreams. She never, in her wildest dreams, thought she would end up being a tough-as-nails roller girl. But she is. And she's a damned good one, too. And I never in my wildest dreams thought I would get a chance to try to become a published author.

We are chasing our dreams, our passions. And it has rejuvenated us both.

I would encourage any women reading this to look into today's roller derby. It's not your mother's roller derby, believe me.

Start with renting Whip It, the roller derby film starring Ellen Page and Drew Barrymore. After you've watched that, go to and rent the first (and only) season of Rollergirls, a reality show from A&E. It's awesome and is a true-to-life representation of being a roller girl today. Then buy the book Down and Dirty: The Insider's Guide to Roller Derby by Jennifer "Kasey Bomber" Barbee and Alex "Axles of Evil" Cohen.

And then find a start-up league in your area and join up. If there isn't one, look into starting one. You won't regret it.


  1. I know exactly how she feels!

    Is it flat or banked track?

  2. Madmother: Flat track. It appears easier to find places to practice and stage bouts on a flat track as opposed to having to build a banked one. Also, I believe most of the leagues in the Midwest are flat-track.

  3. OMG! That is totally super cool! Your wife Jennifer is an awesome Derby Girl!

  4. Yeah, I can't do the roller derby thing. I give mad respect to those women brave enough to do it. I freak out just trying to stand up on roller blades. I might consider hockey, but only because I'm more comfortable on ice skates... and well, hockey players get to wear a ton of padding. That said, I think it's awesome that you are so supportive of her. And I'm glad that she's found something to be passionate about. As women, we have a tendency to take care of everyone else first and look out for ourselves last. We ALL need stress relief.

    You should email me info on when you guys swing by this area. If you check out an O's game let me know. I'm ALWAYS there so we could all meet up and say hi!

  5. I love the name Genghis Mom! You have a very cool wife, Terry!