Channeling my inner derby girl

If you were a tomboy in the 1970s, as I was, you likely had at least a fleeting desire to grow up to be Raquel Welch in "The Kansas City Bomber," the 1972 roller derby film.

Roller derby was popular then, and I considered it the perfect sport: it moved fast and you got to punch people.

So when I discovered that the Providence Roller Derby league held open tryouts in Narragansett, R.I., I knew I had to check it out.

I literally dusted off my circa 1978 sneaker-style skates, grabbed my cycling helmet and headed to the rink. Once there, I signed the waiver and was handed protective gear from recruiting leader Trophy Knife, who was wearing a nametag that read simply, "Knife."

Shelby Bruisin', another skater, checked to be sure I was appropriately suited up in helmet, elbow pads, wrist guards and knee pads. The lone man present, a league announcer, warned me not to smile, as I wasn't wearing a mouth guard.

Some of the women dressed in short-shorts, tight tops and fishnets, evoking the sexy/tough attitude that roller derby is known for. Others dressed for a workout, which it was. I wore black yoga pants and a Rosie the Riveter T-shirt.

Out on the floor, about 40 women of various ages warmed up, skating a bit gingerly around the rink. Many of us were first-timers to derby, and you could tell by our stiff legged, erect skating style.

The more experienced skaters glided effortlessly in a graceful crossover style, knees bent, to lower their centers of gravity. The most elegant was Rhode Kill, a tall, willowy Sandra Bullock look-alike with a sleeve of tattoos down her right arm.

First order of business was learning to fall. We skated out a little ways and then dropped to one knee, sliding a bit on the wooden flooring, then we got up quickly without putting our hands on the floor or flailing around. We did this nonstop across the length of the rink a couple of times, and then practiced a double-knee version of this fall.

The coaches' mantra was "fall small," that is, stay compact to avoid getting run over.

By the end of the second round, most of us were winded, with arms thrashing about in very un-compact fashion as we staggered to our feet.

Next, we practiced stopping methods, first by dragging the knob on the front of one skate along the floor, then putting our feet in a T-formation and finally trying a modified split. The defensive benefit of the latter is that it allows you to do a natural "butt block," using up a lot of rink real estate sticking out
your rear.

And by the way, punching is not allowed.

To wrap up, we tried the crossover style of skating, the only way to build speed. I kept pushing my right leg out sideways as instructed and hovering it just in front of my left, then wimping out and putting it down. I couldn't bring myself to fully cross right foot over left for fear of doing a header.

Plenty of women stuck around to practice during the free skate and were jazzed enough to commit to more advanced skills clinics, but I decided not press to my luck and called it a night.

The next morning I woke up with slightly sore ankles and a black-and-blue on one shin.

I'm still no Kansas City Bomber, but not bad for a chick closer to 50 than 40.

* Carol McCarthy's preferred roller derby name, if she were to become worthy.


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