Here at Devaskation, we work really hard on our emails, articles, and videos in an effort to connect with as many of our customers as possible, whether it’s sharing knowledge or just outright entertainment. We love skating here, and want to help everyone who wants to skate in any way we can, so it’s always so awesome to hear that we made a difference. We really can’t even tell you how much we appreciate the time our customers take to let us know! We felt that the email we received from Jimmy was an amazing story that addresses the stereotypes many people have about Roller Derby and basically tells the world what the Roller Derby community is really about, so we asked him if we could share it with you. We absolutely love when skaters get involved in Derby and many are pleasantly surprised at what an awesome community of skaters they are. So we hope you enjoy Jimmy’s story as much as we did!
Enjoy your new Roller Derby family, Jimmy. We know you have tons of great times with them in your future!
Greetings from Northernmost Virginia,
Let me start out by saying this isn’t an inquiry about a product or anything like that, it’s more some feedback on something that happened purely on account of your newsletter emails and the whole story of what has happened since. If you have any pressing business to attend to by all means don’t let me hold you up. If you all have a spare few minutes (or an hour, the way I write things) then I think you’ll find this interesting.
I guess the best place to start is the beginning. I’ve had quite a few hobbies and interests come and go over the years, but there are two that have stuck with me. Those two being Railroads and Skating. Like anything they’ve ebbed and flowed, some years I would be more into them than others, but they have always been there. Skating always was a sort of odd duck as my hobbies go. Most people would probably describe me as a nerd. I can recite entire locomotive rosters of some small railroads in Pennsylvania by heart, I know most of the protocols for operating a steam locomotive, and I’ve spent more money on Train Simulator programs and Model Trains than much anything else. On top of that, some of my friends have said I am a bit like Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory, but with a lot less ego. I have never played or participated in any organized sport (save for pushing buttons to operate a scoreboard at a few of the sister’s softball games). I have never had any interest in any organized sport in my life. I simply would go out and skate on my own from time to time. This year, after a bit of a hiatus, I returned to skating as I explored some of the local bike trails. This re-ignited a search I had been slowly conducting for a good pair of outdoor quad skates. I found something on ebay that showed potential, but some years ago I learned the hard way to read the reviews before making such a purchase. Searching online for reviews, I found your site. This is where things really start to take off.
I read the reviews of a particular kind of skate (Jackson Rave, if you’re interested) and noted that you all had a better overall deal than the ebay listings I was watching, so I made a mental note of your site and came back later. When I returned and saw the homepage on its own for the first time, I noticed the abundance of references to Roller Derby. My first thought was “Oh, That…” Now, I’ve known of Roller Derby for a long time, but the majority of what I knew about it came from an episode of Psyche that was on in the background at a friend’s house one evening, and about 5 minutes of “Whip It” that I stumbled across channel surfing one evening. I knew scoring was based on players passing each other, but that was it as the practical side of things went. Beyond that the opinion I held of Roller Derby was based on those poster images you see of the tattooed skaters with a look on their face that suggests someone did something nasty to their breakfast cereal. I seem to recall thinking to myself “Well, they do carry that but I’m here for the outdoor equipment. I’ll just ignore the other stuff.” There is a repeating pattern I see in my life, and it always starts with a scoff…
“Join our mailing list for a discount!” Normally, I ignore such pop-ups. Your site was an exception, as I actually figured on buying something. That little carrot got my email address in your system and laid the groundwork for quite a change. I placed my order for the skates I had been eyeing along with a bag and some other gear to go along with them. On that particular kind of skate you all have a package deal where the skates came with indoor wheels and a set of outdoor wheels could be added for $35. I went for that option, figuring that I might end up going to a rink ‘one of these days’. Once the skates arrived I swapped the indoor wheels for the outdoor and took them out on a local bike trail. I’ve got to say, they’re the best pair of quads I’ve ever owned. Now that’s coming from someone who up until this year was snagging whatever he could get cheap off ebay, so take that for what it’s worth. As I was breaking the new skates in, your newsletters began showing up in my inbox.
One afternoon in early august, I got off work and walked out to the truck. Once I had the AC running I pulled out my phone and checked up on everything. There was an email from you all entitled “Everybody Skate Now.” I opened it and was VERY surprised to see the banners at the top of the email say “August 5th is National Underwear Day – Put Panties* on your head and Skate!” I did a couple double-takes before muttering a very loud “What the hell?” to myself. Inside the banner was an asterisk coinciding with the above remark saying to click there to find out more. As confused as I was I thought to myself “Okay, let’s see what this is about.” I clicked the link and was taken to a page with a glossary of Roller Derby terms. I went in with the intention of finding only the explanation for that one term and getting out, no more. The term ‘Panty’ was not to be found in the Glossary, but I did find my explanation a little further down on the page. While on that page, I skimmed the Glossary and one term stood out to me in particular; “AFTDA” or the Association of Flat Track Derby Announcers. It genuinely surprised me to learn that there was anything to announce for the game at all, let alone that there was an association to keep announcers in check. That was the first chip in the wall, so to speak. That was only the beginning, however.
I returned to that same page a few more times and began to get a clearer mental picture of how the sport is played. A mild curiosity had been kindled, but it wasn’t much more than that. Later on I stumbled across your youtube channel, and found a couple of your funnier videos such as the dual-certified helmet tests and the Amaze-Balls toe stops. While looking around for more laughs I came across a few of the videos put together by Vulvarizer. The first was about misconceptions people have about Roller Derby and strange questions people ask about it. The second was an “Expectations Vs. Reality” video on Roller Derby. I found it amusing, though some of the moves demonstrated in that video did genuinely impress me. Next up was “Things Derby Players Don’t Say”. I clicked on it innocently enough, but was surprised to find that many of the things said in that video perfectly matched my understanding of the game. It was then I realized something was 180 degrees out of phase. I went back through the videos and began to read the comments. Each of the videos had comments written by actual Derby players expressing their love for the game and their fellow players. That really didn’t mesh with my understanding of the sport. By this point, a small ember of curiosity had exploded into a raging inferno. At the same time, the mental image I had of the sport was still the only guide I had to make judgement calls from. The internet had plenty on how the game is played, but there was clearly something missing. This is when I began to realize there had to be more to Roller Derby than just the general aura it seemed to emulate. Hidden somewhere in everything was an element the stereotypes had missed.
With internet searches not turning the missing element, I came to the conclusion that it was something I would have to go and see for myself. One evening, I opened Google up and entered the search term “Northern Virginia Roller Derby”. I was immediate greeted by a result for a league called “NOVA Roller Derby” (NOVA is an acronym we use around here for Northern Virginia). Talk about coincidence. I looked over their website and a couple other leagues that popped up in the results. NRD stood out to me for some reason though. On their site they said they were looking for new volunteers, NSOs, Refs, you name it. That certainly got my attention. My mind is an interesting thing. I think in terms of tasks completed, in terms of function. If I’m going to be somewhere, I may as well be doing something. If I’m not, what’s the point? I figured I could start by acting as an NSO and maybe later try my hand at being a referee. I had seen references on other Derby sites indicating they welcomed men as Refs, NSOs, and in other functions of the game, but NRD’s site did not specifically say one way or the other. So with visions still clear in my head of a women’s biker gang on roller skates, I went to the contact page of the NRD site and started to carefully write out a message. Less than half way into it my phone displayed an emergency alert, and somehow in clearing that the half-written message got sent. “Well @#$%” I thought to myself. I quickly banged out a short and to-the-point message apologizing for the incomplete message earlier, expressing interest in becoming a part of the league, and inquiring if there was a place for men. I sent that and awaited the response.
I got my reply about an hour and a half later from a skater who goes by the name of “Isle RaceU”. I was pleasantly surprised and quite relieved that she answered my inquiry with a very friendly and welcoming tone. It was certainly not the “Go &%$# Yourself” tone I had expected. She invited me to an interest and recruitment meeting that evening, but I was unable to attend due to a model railroad club meeting at the same time. After trading a few emails back and forth and explaining my intentions, she forwarded my email to the head NSO and Volunteer coordinator, a man by the name of Jason, or “Just For Kicks” or “JFK” (on account of his wife, a skater, by the name of “Stevie Kicks”). He invited me out to a screening of “Whip It” the league was doing at a local Alamo Draft House that Saturday. The evening of the event I drove out about a hour before the screening was scheduled to start. I wasn’t sure if anyone would be there at that time so I drove past the front of the theater hoping to spot something. A lady in a referee shirt and about a half dozen skaters in full gear provided a real good clue. I found a parking spot and took a moment to settle my nerves. They say one should strive to go outside their comfort zone every day, but this whole thing had me set for the next month. The email contact I’d had with people in the league had all been great, now it was time to jump in and see how it played out face to face. I took a deep breath and started walking towards the theater.
As I approached the theater I heard a couple ladies whooping it up, which I mistakenly assumed were Derby skaters. They turned out to be a couple of regular ladies who had downed a few. Anyways, when I reached the front of the theater only two of the NRD skaters were still there. I pulled my phone out, made sure I was about to ask for the right person, and approached them. Now, Jason had signed his emails “JFK (Just For Kicks)” so I figured he went by the initials. “Uh, excuse me, I’m looking for a Jason.. or… JFK?” I asked the two skaters, who seemed a little confused. I explained I was looking to try my hand at becoming a NSO and maybe a ref, to which the skaters replied “For Roller Derby?” almost as if they couldn’t believe it. We introduced ourselves to each other and one of the skaters asked me to follow her into the lobby to track down “JFK”. A few moments later I was shaking hands with the man. I was pleasantly surprised by his friendly demeanor. We stood there in the lobby and chatted for a bit before we went into the theater and sat down for the movie. After the film I spoke with Jason a bit more and cleared up a few of my misconceptions about the sport. He introduced me to his wife, ‘Stevie Kicks’, and again I was pleasantly surprised by her sweet and friendly demeanor. My expectations had been about as far off the mark as they could get. This was when the mental image of the ‘women’s biker gang’ really began to fall apart.
The story is now starting to break off into my own adventure in this wild yet wonderful sport, so I’ll abbreviate things from here. A week after seeing Whip It, I attended a bout for the first time. Seeing this in person cleared the vast majority of the remaining concerns I had about the sport. I had again set my expectations way off, and was happy to see that I was beyond incorrect. No blood, no guts, no flying hair, just a well-organized sport played by people who clearly have a passion for what they do. The stereotypes missed again, big time, and I was glad to see it. One of the upcoming events the league was promoting was something called “Skate with NRD”. An event a lot of leagues do (to my knowledge) were people are invited to come out, borrow equipment if needs be, and try out some basic Derby skills. Based on what I had seen at the bout I was ranking my own skating as “Wholly inadequate”. I was on the fence about attending but a word with the league’s recruiter nudged me into doing it. I already had all my own equipment save for a helmet, and the only helmet they found that fit me was one with a gay pride flag and a sticker reading “No Balls Required”. I thought the situation was more funny than anything, even if I am a straight guy. The indoor wheels that came with my skates finally saw their first use that evening, and I had a fantastic time. That evening served to clear the last of my concerns about the sport. The last one being my ability to skate at the level necessary to handle a Derby situation. I am now convinced, I can do it.
From here things are looking up. On top of my willingness to fill whatever NSO position the league needs, I am ‘lending my voice’ to the league. My grandfather worked in the radio industry for some time. He was a talk show host and announcer for several small stations in Northern Virginia, and I have inherited his voice. As of the writing of this email, I have recorded a couple demonstration voice-overs for the league in hopes of providing soundtracks for promotional social media videos. As time goes on I hope to gain enough experience to referee on occasion and possibly announce a bout. I feel that the greatest contributions I can make are on the promotional side of things. Roller Derby is, in my humble opinion, probably one of the most underrated sports out there. It’s held back by several unfortunate stereotypes that leave those unfamiliar with it not wanting anything to do with it. I believe that if these stereotypes can be overcome and if the real spirit of the sport can be shown to the public, then we may see yet another renaissance in Roller Derby. It seems to me that there is a huge amount of untapped potential here. If the league is up for it, I have a few ideas on how to try to tap some of that potential. In the time span of less than 20 days, I had a complete change of heart on Roller Derby. I went from thinking of Roller Derby as a women’s biker gang playing an unorganized free-for-all, to having a good understanding of the sport and being all in to support and promote it. If someone like me, who has at best had a mild distaste for organized sports, can make such a turnaround then there is little doubt in my mind that almost anyone can.
So what is this research paper of an email all about? It’s about your newsletters, Devaskation crew. It was one of your newsletters that lit the match and it was the content on your website and youtube channel that laid out the kindling. All of the events I have laid out above (save for the purchase of the skates in the first place) would not have happened if not for that one email on August 3rd. That email lit the fire and gave me a severe case of Derby Fever. Looking at your other newsletters, it seems to me as if that’s the point. To which all I can say is “Well, Congratulations, It worked.” It is to you, the Devaskation crew, I owe the debt for getting me pointed towards this new adventure in life. I don’t know how often you hear stories like this, or if you’ve ever heard a story like this. That’s why I’ve taken the time to write this out in such great detail. I guess it’s just another example of the old saying “It’s the little things that make all the difference.” All the same, to all you at Devaskation, I offer a nod and a hearty ‘Thanks’.
Happy Tracks and Trails to you!
No Current Derby Name, I’m sure it’s coming though.
**This article was written by Jimmy Lambert and published with permission