Skater Stories: Ani DiSpanko
I showed up to Rollerworld for my first practice about two years ago. I’m still not entirely sure what convinced me this was a thing I could do -- I’d seen Whip It years before but I certainly didn’t think of myself as the kind of badass who played a contact sport on roller skates. I’d never roller skated and my only previous team competitions were in QuizBowl, but I was looking for something different in my life and this seemed to fit the bill.
Unlike in Whip It, I did not put skates on and discover I had a natural gift for it, going on to make immediate contributions to the team as a jammer. I spent most of that first practice struggling to stay upright and leg muscles I didn’t know existed ached for days after. But something about derby made me come back the following week and every week after that, motivating me to put in the work (on- and off-skates) to keep improving. I volunteered at scrimmages and team events because I wanted to be a part of this community even while I was still working on being able to play the sport.
At a time in my life where I was feeling somewhat adrift in other areas, this aspect of derby was a significant draw. I wasn’t just getting some exercise and meeting new people but immersing myself in a community where women get to take an active role in running their sport in addition to playing it -- one of the few sports where the different versions are “roller derby” and “men’s roller derby.” Success in derby requires not just confidence in your ability to take up space but also confidence in other women to work with you and support you, traits that are not always encouraged in other areas.
Taking a derby name is part of this, but not in the way you might think. For me, my derby name is not a separate badass identity that I have to take on to play a contact sport, but a reminder that I am capable of being bold and strong and resilient. The longer I play derby, the easier this becomes to remember.