How roller derby changed my daughter's life

January 10 | Guest post by Zeke Odins-Lucas

DerbyBrats

My daughter joined the Seattle Derby Brats as Sweetie Sanguinate-Her in January of 2009. She was eight and half years old. It was the single best parental decision I have made with my daughter. She has been transformed physically, mentally and especially emotionally. She found herself in roller derby.

Her mother and I went through a difficult divorce when she was six. As a result she withdrew from her peers and became anxious and vigilant, spending most of her conscious energy watching the clock and caring and tracking her family. She was fragmented, had trouble sleeping, interacting with other kids, and applying herself in school.

Zeke's daughter, Sweetie Sanguinate-Her
I started roller skating when I was five years old. As a result of my lifelong interest, I put all three of my girls on skates by the age of three, but Sweetie was the only one that took time on her own to skate in the driveway and garage. So it wasn't surprising that she was the one that expressed a cautious interest in derby when presented with the option. She started out in the Tootsie Rollers ages six to ten playing a variation of "flag derby" mostly focused on developing skating skills. The surprise was how this decision changed everything else her life

Two years later she will tell you that derby is the most rewarding thing in her life. Last year she joined the juniors as the youngest skater to play by the full adult rules. She has an obvious physical grace and social poise that always provokes comments when people meet her. She is strong enough to easily pick me (at 175 pounds) up off the ground. She gets straight A's and rave reviews from her teachers. She does her homework without prompting. She talks comfortably with anyone of any age. She sleeps well. She separates the drama of others from her own choices. She builds trust and friendships easily. In short she has become a centered coherent person with an internal drive to excel and connect.

Skating as a physical outlet has obvious benefits, but is especially valuable as adolescent bodies are changing in confusing ways. Derby girls have an atypical relationship with their bodies, where they value it for what it can do, how it can deliver their own personal excellence. They are directly rewarded for their investment of time and energy. They are more in tune, closer aligned and less self-conscious of their physical nature.

Zeke as a derby referee! Photo by Jules Doyle of Type2BPhoto
The more subtle benefits come from the nature of the community. Roller derby as a sport is entirely volunteer: nobody gets paid to participate. That means that everyone, the skaters, the coaches, the admins, the officials, they all do it for the love of the sport and the people in it. This passion for excellence and cooperation permeates every aspect.

It's hard to describe how different this is from the normal activities kids are involved in. The experience of being in a group of people that all share the same love and dedication changes the very nature of every interaction. And it turns out it changes the way you interact with yourself.

This experience is not unique. Personally, my life has been changed by my daughter's choice. I now referee for both the Seattle Derby Brats and Rat City Rollergirls as Ezekiel Squeal. Parents consistently share tales of their girls' transformations. The coaches (mostly derby skaters) regularly share how fulfilling it is to be a part of junior derby. The originating head coach of SDB has said she considers junior derby to be her legacy.

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  1. Love this! roller derby did so many things for me as a mother, and my sister skates in junior derby in my home town and loves it. I never had good body image, and while sometimes i still feel awkward, its never while i'm playing roller derby.

  2. I think even watching Roller Derby can boost a girl's esteem. My friend's daughter, age 7, LOVES roller derby. Her mom (a university professor) teaches a couple of our local skaters and so her daughter has gotten to meet them and everything. I think the girlie loves and totally gets that women can be both badass and strong, while wearing cool skirts having fun!

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  3. LOVE IT! I found derby as a mom,and it's such an awesome community. I definitely intend to put my daughter on skates as soon as I can, and hope that she gets the "community" of girl power, without such nonsense as Spice Girls or Bratz. REAL girl power!

  4. Love this article, though I will contend that most girls benefit in many of the same ways from sports in general.

    Both myself and my sister have spent years of our lives training as national level sprint kayakers, and both of us have found the same benefits throughout our lives. It has given us a confidence and work ethic about ourselves that few young women have when they aren't involved in sports.

    Being physically active and assertive in her decisions is one thing I want my daughter to learn from me. Even though I am retired from kayaking, I hope to teach my daughter the same valuable lessons in her early life by watching mom play rugby and hopefully derby! Then when she is ready and expresses interest its her turn ­čÖé

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    • I agree – for me, synchronized swimming was an incredibly empowering experience in my junior high and high school years.

  5. Awesome! I love this. I did not know they had roller derby for young girls. My daughter is only 1 but I will be looking at this when she is older. How fun!!

  6. As an adult roller girl, I approve this post!
    My kiddo is 1, but as soon as her feet match a skate size, she will be skating too!

    It's the best community I've ever wanted to be involved in. (And I've shed my baby weight!)

  7. My daughter is also on the local junior roller derby team and loves it! I do have to point out though that while other sports can also help girls to achieve self confidence and balance in their lives I believe that roller derby is one of the few that teaches our girls to love their body shape no matter what it may be! There are so many other sports that favor a certain body type but with roller derby, every body type is valued! I cannot stress enough how much this sports does to improve the girls' self image.

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  8. I LOVE this!

    Where does one find skates for a 3 year old? All I can find are the Fisher Price ones. I'd like to find some decent quad skates for my 3 year old.

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  9. Sorry, I meant to address the other qsoituen too: mixed gender roller derby leagues aren't recognized or insurable by the Flat Track Derby Association or Roller Sports Canada . so men and woman have to play on separate teams, not unlike most professional sports. I think having other leagues in the city would be awesome, and that working with a men's derby team (if someone wanted to start one) would be rad!

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