Sustaining motivation is one of the most difficult aspects of maintaining a commitment, be it a fitness commitment or anything else. Having goals is great, and achieving them even better! But if you don’t enjoy the process then getting there will just be torture, and if the goal proves unfulfilling then it might all feel like a dispiriting waste of time. If you rarely if ever have fun running, then chances are you’re not going to stick with it. And if you do, why? Especially when there’s so many things out there to try!


Roller derby, for instance.


Now, I’m no derby superfan, but like anyone living in the English-speaking urban hipster archipelago I’ve enjoyed a match or three and have friends who participate. One of the reasons I like it is that it has all the stuff that makes full-contact, team sports awesome but without a lot of the baggage that generally comes with mainstream jock culture. And for the spectators, it’s fast, fit people doing dangerous things, which is always fun to watch!


I went out to Richmond for the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association Western Regional playoffs last month to check out some of the highest caliber teams in the country skate it out for a shot at the national championship. Pictured is the action between the Rat City Rollergirls of Portland Seattle* and the Sacred City Derby Girls from Sacramento in a second round match. If you’re familiar with the faster, showier banked-track matches, this is a bit of a different game. Flat track derby isn’t quite as fast and loose, and you see much closer play with tight scrums, quick spins and fancy footwork. An off-duty referee in the stands rooting for the B.ay A.rea D.erby Girls (who placed and earned a trip to Atlanta, Georgia) said that at this level, spectators are mostly friends, family and fellow competitors. Connoisseurs, if you will, of the sport distilled to its most pure, skilled and technical.


But how do you get to that level? Everyone has to start somewhere. Derby might be a great alternative to the company soccer team or pub softball team to help keep you active and provide the social accountability and structure of a team, but unless you’re a freak of nature you can’t expect to just strap on skates and roll into playoff shape. So I asked my friends Micki “Mickispeedia” Krimmel of the Hollywood Scarlets, who was up from Los Angeles to skate with the Angel City Derby Girls, and Jenny “Jentropy” Murphy who skates locally with the Peninsula Roller Girls club.


When did you first become interested in derby?

Mickispeedia: A little over 4 years ago, a friend of mine invited me to see the LA Derby Dolls, the banked track league here in LA. Before that, I didn’t even know modern roller derby existed. The LA Derby Dolls put on a fantastic show. The track, the venue, the lights—it’s a big deal and I wanted to be a part of it. So I signed up. At first, I didn’t know what I was getting into. I thought it would be something I did a few nights a week for exercise.

Jentropy: I first became interested in in roller derby just over a year ago in June 2011. I was attending an open skate at Redwood Roller Rink when I noticed some recruiting flyers for the new league forming there. Having always been a fan of mosh pits and skating, roller derby seemed like a great fit, so I signed up.


Had you ever participated in team sports before?

Jentropy: I had never participated in organized team sports before I joined roller derby. My past sporting experience was limited to the occasional pickup game of street hockey at the end of the block when I was a young teen.


What kind of shape were you in when you started practicing? How does it compare to where you are now?

Jentropy: When I started participating in roller derby I was in good shape but pretty skinny. At that time I was riding 50 to 100 miles on a road bike as part of my commute. I didn’t expect my fitness level to change very much by switching the form of my exercise. As it turns out, having encouraging teammates and roster spots to fight for are effective motivators. I’ve gained quite a bit of muscle during my roller derby career and become much more focused on my diet and fitness.

Mickispeedia: I have been athletic through my entire adulthood. I’ve run a marathon, I got really into long distance cycling, I like setting big goals for myself as an athlete. But I’ve never really played team sports before. The competition drives me to be in the best shape possible. I work out 5-6 days a week, sometimes twice a day.


What do you do besides derby to stay in shape?

Mickispeedia: I combine crossfit, running and derby practice 3x a week. And for fun, I go on hikes and long distance bike rides. Now, when I train other skaters, I tell them, “Roller derby is not for getting into shape. You get into shape to be better at roller derby.”

Jentropy: I rock climb. Cross training is very important. It reduces the risk of injuries during gameplay and helps with those intense moments during a bout.


Ballpark estimate, what does it cost to get started in terms of time and money?

Jentropy: At a minimum expect to spend $200 on skates and pads and about $150 on dues and insurance for your first month. But, like starting any new hobby, if you spend a little more on gear early on your initial experiences will be more enjoyable and you’ll be more likely to stick with it.

Mickispeedia: We practice as a team 3 times a week for 2 hours. But we train much more than that. I schedule my life around my fitness. On top of that, roller derby leagues are run by the skaters. We all volunteer time to keep the organization running. It’s a big commitment. In terms of cash, gear can be pretty expensive. A top of the line skate package can easily cost over $700. But beginners can get reasonable skates for much cheaper than that.


The action seems pretty brutal and risky! Besides that, what keeps you coming back for more?

Mickispeedia: Every bout I play, I learn something. Every practice, I get a little better. There are beautiful moments in every sweaty dirty practice where time slows down and you become one with your teammates to do something you couldn’t do a week ago.

This is what keeps us all coming back for more. Team sports offer a unique opportunity for self improvement—improvement that you couldn’t possibly accomplish on your own.

Jentropy: Besides intense exercise and excitement of a contact sport, there is one important thing that brings me back for more: my teammates. When you spend 6 hours a week together on skates working on perfecting your hardest hits, you form a special kind of relationship. The friendships I’ve formed on my team, within my league and beyond are just as important to me as the fitness.


What role does competition play in your relationship to the sport? How about your team?

Mickispeedia: Competition is what drives the whole boat. The desire to win is behind the massive growth roller derby has seen in the past few years. Every win and every loss drives each team to put in more time and effort to get better.

Jentropy: In roller derby we are always competing. Even when we’re not lined up at the jammer line to face an opposing team, we’re in constant competition with our teammates for spots on the next roster. Out of a league of 60 or more people, only 14 will skate at each interleague competition.

I never considered myself a competitive person. I do not become emotionally involved in either the bouts themselves or the evaluation leading up to them; however, I always commit fully to what I do. Roller derby is no different. I’m always trying to push myself, whether it be at a practice or the big bout of the year. I would like to believe that competition does not play a role in this, but knowing that an eager new skater can displace me from the roster at any time definitely motivates me to keep pushing.


If you could do it again, how might you prepare differently?

Jentropy: I’m pretty happy with how roller derby has worked out for me, but If I had to pick something, I would have bought better knee pads!

Mickispeedia: I only wish I had started earlier.


For more derby action, you can watch the archives of the western regional action or tune in to nationals at the WFTDA website on November 2nd—the sport is practically made for watching online complete with live Twitter and Facebook cheerleading and trash talking, and the production team does a great job with broadcasts. Or you can buy tickets to catch Jentropy and the Peninsula Roller Girls live and in person on Friday, October 12th at the Redwood Roller Rink in Redwood City. Maybe you’ll get inspired to dust off those old skates in the basement and find yourself something you love enough to commit to!


Jackson West has previously written about cycling in San Francisco for the Appeal. Have a question or suggestion or just a story to share? Send it in! For more indulgent, self-involved health and wellness coverage visit Fitness Douchebags.

* Correction: As ovni42 correctly points out, the Rat City skaters hail from Seattle, a mistake which this native Seattlite intimately regrets.

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