Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

July 12, 2013

Live the story: My experience as a roller derby girl

By Lindsay Eckert
Tribune lifestyle editor

Kokomo — “Hi Lindsay, my name is Andrea McKown, aka 5-ft. Assassin. I hear you might be joining us for [City of Fists roller derby] practice. That would be awesome!!!! We’ll be gentle! It’s going to be a blast!”

When someone who answers to the name, 5-ft. Assasin, tells you via text: “We’ll be gentle!” you take the message with a bit of caution. Therefore, I needed to pad every single joint in my body for practice with The City of Fists roller girls Monday night.

“These may have ‘derby stink’ on them. I’m the mom of Menzy Mayhem by the way,” Edema Monsoon told me as she helped me strap into that said padding, which included: wrist guards, elbow guards, knee pads, a mouth guard and a helmet. Monsoon, like the others, answers the “name question” with her derby name; making my reporter pad a colorful illustration of roller derby’s name culture.

Real names are checked at the door of Kokomo Skate World, where the team practices two nights a week, and the combative-yet-clever names take hold. There is no Emily, no Carmie, no Jessica; instead, there is: Scorpio Pathic, Carmen Slam Diego and JessPasst Jurass.

Inside the walls of Kokomo Skate World, the disco balls aren’t spinning, a few overhead fluorescent lights flicker in place of pulsing strobe lights and the typical skate rink tunes – hello, Boyz II Men, -- are swapped for a different sound: Competition, to say it simply.

“In! Out! In! Out!” is yelled as the roller girls stealthily weave in and out of a line, eyeing their next spot, through a drill.

“Move! Move! Move!” is screamed as two jammers fight their way from the back of the pack to the front during a two-minute jam, which is how points are scored. A certain number of two-minute jams (similar to periods in hockey) make up a bout (similar to a hockey match). Another similarity to hockey?  There’s a penalty box, and it’s used. This sport isn’t for those concerned about breaking nails and black and blue is often the best-accessorized color for The City of Fists gals.

To be honest, I nearly passed out. I was strapped into all my gear, teetering on skates, falling down – Boyz II Men was regularly on the radio the last time I was in skates – and I had a mouth guard that seemed to hinder my breathing. It was an excuse I worked through until I embarrassingly asked to get a drink; as the stars I saw foreshadowed an unpleasant meeting with a hardwood floor.

I’m not a baby. I love throwing myself in situations I’ve never experienced for the sake of a story, but also for the sake of living fully. If, even once, you put yourself in cruise control you risk the colors of your life greying. It’s a risk I never intend to take. So, I felt pretty [insert expletives here, that’s derby culture too] about my need for a water break.

“People take what we do for granted a lot, we wear armor to be able to do this, it’s heavy on its own and we’re working really hard,” the 5-ft. Assassin told me as all five foot of her leaned over the railing to reassure me while I sat [still makes me mad to think I sat, even for a moment, during a practice] and sipped water. The only thing that would’ve made me feel prissier is if I would’ve sipped the water with my pinky raised high in the sky. Gross.

I was uncomfortable and I wanted my notebook, the one thing that’d connect me back to what I know; that’d connect me to what I was good at. But, giving in would’ve greyed the colors. So, upwardly mobile I became. And I got better, like a lot better. I started skating faster, I weaved in and out of the girls during their drill; yelling “In! Out!” as I’d heard them do while I was sitting. I was even a jammer, fighting through the girls to get to the front, before I encouraged them to bang me around a bit.

The Crayola box was full. I was living again, not sitting and sipping water. Good lord, I hated that moment.

To wrap up the evening one of the girls asked, “Who’s feeling really good on their skates tonight?”

One of the girls smiled to reveal her purple mouth guard as she raised her armor-clad hand.

“Come on over then!” said Scorpio Pathic. “Now, we want you to hit Lindsay.”

She hesitated before asking: “How hard?”

“Don’t be gentle,” I said.

[friday] editor/ aka Journalistic Jammer