My Roller Derby Queen: Seeing Life Through Orange-Colored Glasses

My 9yo, representing her Orange Crush.

Spring Piano Recital 2012: Paisley (9yo)

Yesterday was my 9yo’s Spring Piano Recital. She played an original composition that she wrote, entitled “Orange Crush.” She wore orange-and-black-striped tights to visually represent her “Orange Crush.” On her feet, she sported her well-worn, black-and-white, skull-and-crossbones-with-orange-piping, custom-designed “Orange Crush” Converse All-Stars, rather than the black ballet flats I suggested (she’s only worn them once – for her last Spring Piano Recital). I anticipated an epic battle when I insisted that she may not, under any circumstances, wear her neon-orange “Orange Crush” hoodie (it’s a piano recital; even in Seattle, where dressing up means tucking one’s t-shirt into one’s jeans, I have my standards), but the day turned out warm and sunny, and she left her beloved sweatshirt at home.

Our family’s life has become permeated with all things “Orange Crush.” And I’m not talking about the retro-cool soda pop.

You see, my 9yo daughter’s roller derby team is called the Orange Crush. She is head over wheels in love with her new sport, and now views the entire world around her through orange-colored glasses…

It all began innocently enough when one of her best friends asked if she wanted to take a roller derby camp over the summer. I had almost no exposure to roller derby at the time, only knowing of the popularity of Seattle’s Rat City Rollergirls – and the hip, if fairly risqué, pin-up fashion sensibilities of said Rollergirls – from afar; I’d never even been to a bout, but knew it involved lots of bruises inflicted from knocking each other off the track. With a touch of trepidation, I agreed she could take the six week session (every Friday night for six weeks), in spite of the lateness of the practices (6-9pm – Paisley’s bedtime is usually around 7:30/8pm). I figured, if anything, the skating practice would make her a better skater and she’d have more fun at the annual roller-skating trip her school took (which represented her entire roller skating career up until this time).

And though I worried a bit that she’d learn to body-slam some unsuspecting classmate and I’d have a call from the principal, I never expected that we were actually making a lifestyle choice.

So, we took a trip to Fast Girl Skates (the first roller derby storefront in the country is here in Seattle!) to get Paisley geared up for camp: a new pair of skates, a helmet, knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards, and a mouth guard.

Paisley's first day of New Skater Camp

Paisley (then 8yo) on her first day of New Skater Camp (Summer 2011).

Then, off to The Rat’s Nest (the industrial-style warehouse where the Rat City Rollergirls and their Junior Division, the Seattle Derby Brats, practice) we went. Gear on, and off she skated… falling, literally, every five feet. I’m not kidding. I cringed and winced every time her little body slammed into the ground. But even when her head bounced off the track (really – thank goodness for helmets!), she just kept popping up like popcorn. Falls meant nothing to her. Which is good. Because there’s LOTS of falling in roller derby. Lots. Especially for someone who was on skates for only the THIRD TIME EVER.

We were back at Fast Girl Skates the next day buying her “butt pads.” Butt pads cushion the falls. Who knew??

She couldn’t wait until her second practice, but did request one wardrobe change: instead of the leggings she was wearing, could she “maybe skate in some tights?” And, because “it was so hot” (there’s no A/C in the Rat’s Nest, and it does get rather warm in the summer months; not that the skaters ever notice such trivialities as personal comfort), her “coaches had said” (yeah, right!) that she “should probably have some of those tights with the holes in them, to help keep cool.”

Uh-huh. It turns out, my eyebrows actually can touch my hairline.

Somehow, in the moments between picking herself up from all the falls, my then-8yo daughter had (of course) observed that some of the older (read: teenaged) girls who were helping the coaches run the camp, wore FISHNET STOCKINGS under their butt pads (recall the pin-up style of roller derby).

(Deep breath.) I was quite impressed by how calm I was when I let her know that, actually, the coaches had emailed me (and all the parents) suggesting new skaters wear comfortable LEGGINGS. Leggings were fine. And I stopped there, not feeling obliged to tell her that I’d buy her “fishnet stockings” roughly NEVER.

I didn’t see her skate again until her fifth practice, and in spite of being hindered by leggings, I was totally BLOWN AWAY by the progress she’d made in such a short time. She was still falling, but less often. And she was getting fast! But mostly, she had this… this… this incredible ENERGY, this DRIVE. She was just so determined, so focused, so absolutely thrilled to be there. Bill and I have never seen her so taken with ANYTHING, not with ballet or soccer or Aikido or Jiu-Jitsu or swimming or piano or art or zoo camp or theater camp or any other activity she’s asked to do. Her passion for roller derby was RADIATING from her little body. She skated up to me during a water break, a huge, beaming smile on her face, and told me (no, she didn’t ask, there was no debate here) that she couldn’t WAIT to try out for the roller derby team!

Oooh boy. She was such a new skater, and her skills so under-developed, we worried that she’d be devastated by not making the team… But we showed up for tryouts a few weeks later anyway, and to everyone’s surprise (except Paisley’s), her enthusiasm and dedication-to-improving earned her a spot on the youngest division, the Tootsy Rollers (ages 8 through 11 or 12). After the initial shock of realizing we were now locked into Friday night practices for the entire school year, we were immediately faced with the next big challenge: coming up with her derby name. This was WAY more difficult than the fishnet stocking conversation…

You see, each skater in the entire world has their very own, unique roller derby name, most of which incorporate puns or plays on words (and most of which are completely inappropriate for an 8yo child). After weeks of agonizing over names and checking them against the international database of roller derby names (yes, it exists!*), feeling like we were naming our “unborn baby” all over again, our little ball of energy came to be known as LYKA LIVEWIRE (Ha! Don’t you LOVE that??). Her derby number: 100 Amps (contrary to popular opinion, it’s not the volts that’ll kill you; it’s the amps – and 100 amps is more than enough to do the job.). Can you tell we had fun with this?!

After several weeks of training together, the Tootsy Rollers were broken up into two teams in order to hold scrimmages and bouts (the youngest skaters don’t travel or compete with visiting derby leagues). The team divisions are completely arbitrary and all the girls skate and practice together as “one team,” but Paisley was quite thrilled to be assigned to the Orange Crush (as opposed to the Turquoise Terrors), and has slowly adapted her entire wardrobe – and even mine – into shades of black and orange in solidarity with her new team (Me: Paisley, you need a new rain coat. What color do you want? Her: Orange. Me: They don’t have orange. Her: Then black. Me: I’m getting a pedicure today! What color should I paint my toes?? Her: Neon orange. Me: Really?! Her: Duh! Please note: Yes, I painted my toes orange.).

Lyka Livewire

Lyka Livewire leads her team, the Orange Crush, on their victory lap at her first big roller derby bout! (December 2011)

And even though orange is perhaps not my favorite color of the rainbow (I’m a Spring, not an Autumn), I must admit, I, too, have an “Orange Crush.” I’ve grown to love roller derby and Paisley’s all-encompassing fervor for all things orange. I never expected roller derby, of all things, to become such a positive influence on my daughter. When she falls, she gets right back up and keeps going. That, in itself, would be enough of a life lesson for me: if she can just adapt that same attitude when confronting any challenge that life throws at her, then mission accomplished! When any skater gets hurt on the track, everyone takes a knee, and waits with baited breath until their teammate gets back up again; at which point they all applaud and cheer. Even the older, teenaged girls, in all their fishnet stocking glory (though, to be fair, those stockings are usually worn over a fun-colored pair of opaque tights – they flash very little skin), are also incredibly polite. I know, crazy, right?? But, really: they look the grown-ups around them in the eyes with confidence, not cockiness; they call each other out when they hear name calling or disparaging remarks about other girls; and they actually say sorry and move when they notice they’re in your way or blocking your view (!!). These are the kinds of role models I want for my daughter, even if pink- or red-dyed hair come with the bargain.

Yes, before I know it, Paisley will be old enough to transition from the Orange Crush to either the pink-themed Poison Skid’les or the red-themed Evil Angels. And our orange-tinted world will go the way of her Princess Phase…

Oh…

Know what? If she wants to wear her neon-orange hoodie sweatshirt to her next piano recital? So be it…

But fishnet stockings?? It ain’t gonna happen.

*After perusing the International Rollergirls’ Master Roster, I’d love to hear what your roller derby name would be!