Carmen Abbe

“You’re too nice…”

“You can’t hit…”

“You’re going to get beat up…”

“Wait… but you’re not a lesbian…”

These were just a few of the responses I got when I told people I was going to start playing roller derby (a women’s contact sport played on rollerskates). Not many people know much about the sport – and when they do, it is usually just from watching the movie Whip It. Whip It portrays roller derby as a sport for edgy, rough-and-tumble, tattooed, get-in-your-face-and-beat-you-up women. While roller derby undoubtedly attracts strong-willed women, the girls I have met playing roller derby are some of the kindest, most caring women I have ever met.

Carmen Abbe competes for the Seattle Derby Brats, the largest youth roller derby league in the Pacific Northwest.

For example, at my practice a week ago, a girl was having a hard time and skated off the rink crying. Within seconds, there was a crowd of girls around her, holding her hands and wrapping their arms around her shoulders. Roller derby creates a community where women support each other, and where women defy the stereotype that only lesbian, tattooed, rough-and-tumble women can play rough contact sports.

This summer I began playing on Division One of the Seattle Derby Brats (SDB), Seattle’s youth roller derby league. “The Seattle Derby Brats have a philosophy that is designed to instill positive ideals and help young girls realize their own potential,” states the SDB Facebook page. “We strive to create a safe, fun and positive environment where girls can be athletic, increase their self confidence, obtain new friendships and be both self-empowered and self-expressive.”

I have found roller derby to be an empowering, confidence boosting dose of what it means to be a strong woman. Who says I can’t play a sport where I knock people over just because I’m a woman? Gearing up with my mouth guard, helmet, wrist guards, and knee, hip, and elbow pads, I feel like I am indestructible.

As a little girl, I was always told not to push. I was told to be nice, and have grown up valuing being nice and caring for others; but being able to push down my opponents and sprint down a track, air whipping my hair back, knowing I am on the way to a win, is one of the most exhilarating feelings I have ever had. I feel powerful. I feel in control of my body and myself.

Maybe people associate roller derby with lesbians and rough-and-tumble women because people think those roles are the closest girls can get to being boys. But who ever said only boys can push and yell and fight?

I am certainly not a pusher, yeller or fighter; maybe that’s just because of my personality or maybe that’s how I was raised to be. Regardless, I have for the first time starting channeling my inner bad-ass and I love it. At practice our coaches condemn silence: “You are derby girls!” they yell, “You should never be quiet!”

Roller derby teaches young girls and women to be strong, to speak up and to be leaders, it teaches us that not only men can play and succeed in contact sports; and derby has taught me that, once in a while, it’s okay to be pushy.

If you don’t know much about roller derby and want to see it happen live, you can watch Seattle’s professional derby team, The Rat City Roller Girls, at Key Arena where they have their bouts (games). If you are interested in getting involved with roller derby, you can sign up for the Seattle Derby Brats new skater camp in the summer, for girls ages 12-18.

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