Today I embark upon a search for the very soul of the most revolutionary sport in history: women’s roller derby. The mission? To travel to and skate with every women’s flat track roller derby league in the world. The goal? To understand what it is about roller derby that is sparking a revolution (some call it the fourth wave of feminism) and changing women’s lives all around the world.
My own life has been utterly transformed since I started derby. Though I was highly educated, married, and with an ostensibly bright future, I was an emotional zombie. On paper my life looked perfect, but I was isolated, unfulfilled, and generally miserable. I had gone in the “right” direction my whole life and it got me nowhere near happy. Then derby came along and taught me to turn left. I’m not gonna lie; it hasn’t been a pain-free transformation. It’s been challenging beyond belief. But now, two years later, I finally feel like a real live person and I’m not looking back. On and off the track, my foray into this unconventional sport has yielded physical and emotional benefits I could never have imagined.
What I want to know is this: is there some core nugget of derby awesomeness that has the potential to enrich and transform the lives of women everywhere, regardless of age, class, wealth, or geography? Is the derby construct universal? Does the derby experience change from culture to culture? Does derby love transcend socio-economic boundaries within other countries the way it does in the U.S.? Does derby transcend socio-economic differences across borders between poor countries and richer countries? Is there a universal derby language? Will I find the same sense of kinship and community with derby players on the other side of the planet?
As I skate with other leagues around the world, I’ll try to get a feel for what it’s really like to live and play derby in each community. I’ll talk with other skaters about their stories and their derby experiences and I’ll explore the similarities and differences in the global derby experience. Is the kind of transformation I experienced typical, regardless of location or culture? Is it always positive? Is there something about derby that is different from other team sports? Why do so many women risk serious physical injury and give up so much of their time to be part of this world? What makes the roller derby community so strong and supportive? How has derby impacted the role of women in the community in general?
This is a quest of epic proportions, I know. It will not be easy. It certainly will not be quick. It may need to be accomplished in stages. But if my search for the soul of derby inspires even one woman to lace up skates and begin her own left-turn adventure, it will be worth it.