Roller Derby changed the way I see myself as a mother – SheKnows

For my 43rd birthday this year, my husband handed me a heavy box wrapped in paper printed with little cowboy boots and hats, a nod to my Montana roots. Inside was a pair of turquoise blue roller skates with pink wheels. He filmed me as I rolled around the house, dodging the kitchen table and the dog toys on the floor, a happy, joyful childlike experience. My three sons have already seen this scene unfold many years ago when I decided to participate in the Windy City Rollers roller derby league.

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While I loved being a stay-at-home mom, playing and snuggling with my little ones all day, raising three boys in diapers, with a husband who traveled weekly, was often an island and lonely experience. Women don’t talk enough about how difficult it is to make the transition from working life and building a career to being a full-time caregiver, often without any outside help or support. Even though I was buried in laundry and dishes, I was grateful that I chose to be a stay-at-home mom, knowing that many moms don’t have a choice due to finances or circumstances. I was grateful to be able to be with my children through all of their milestones, but I needed something more. I longed for a space of my own.

After five years of being in a sort of “mommy bubble” and right after breastfeeding my last baby, I started looking for a community of women, separate from my moms’ groups where everyone only talks about their kids for the Rendez Vous. And so, at a St. Patrick’s Day parade on a cold Chicago morning, I found what would ignite a passion: roller derby.

Modern roller derby, one of the fastest growing women’s sports in the world, has an unwavering DIY ethos – women are involved in organizing and directing all aspects of the sport, from practices to fights ( games) to marketing. Skateboarders come from all walks of life – the women in my league were nurses, police officers, teachers, bartenders, salon owners, lawyers, photographers and, yes, even mothers.

Three times a week, I met at the training space in Chicago to work on skills and build up my strength, endurance, and speed. The practices would lead to fights at the UIC pavilion. The full contact game is played in two 30-minute periods, divided into two-minute jams. At the whistle, teams of five, one of whom is the scoring jammer, race around the oval and compete for position. When the jammer crosses the pack of blockers and skates a free lap, she then earns a point for each opposing blocker she crosses the next time.

The game is fast; the blows are hard. Skaters are constantly at risk of injury – knee tears, ankle fractures, concussions – and perhaps this threat of danger is one of the building blocks of bonding between teammates. We supported each other through good times and bad. We looked out for each other, on and off the track.

Playing this challenging sport, with awesome, powerful women of all sizes and shapes, changed how I felt about my post-baby body, especially as I got stronger and fitter. I started to see food as fuel and treated my body like an athlete would, even though it was the first team sport I participated in outside of college basketball. I could feel the beast growing inside. I was becoming fearsome.

For almost three years, I took time for myself, developed an unwavering practice and nurtured an interest. Roller derby became a form of holistic self-care where I prioritized my physical and mental well-being. And you know what? Challenging myself like this has made me a better mother. If you’re not taking care of yourself, if you’re not engaging in a passion, how can you take care of someone else properly without burning out?

Now that several years have passed, and I no longer compete, there is an image that floods my memories. It’s about three adorable little faces, gazing at me in wonder and admiration from the sideline, as I circle the track in full gear – helmet, knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards, mouth guards – and stop in front of them to give high-fives and hugs. I was their mother, yes, but I was also a badass roller derby skater. Roller derby is something I chose to do for myself, but it became something I did for my boys. I wanted them to see me as a resilient, strong woman, someone who had her own adventures and lived a full life.

With my new blue skates, I now join my guys and hubby skateboarding around the neighborhood or at a skate park. We discuss the importance of fostering creativity, imagination, and originality, whether it’s skating, playing in a band, volunteering, or learning to code. And, while it is vital to develop a passion, it should be noted that curiosities can change, transform, evolve. It is the enthusiasm, the desire to learn and grow, which should be unwavering and resolute – now and forever.

Elizabeth J. Harless