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Take 2

A different spin on sports by The Seattle Times staff and readers.

May 10, 2013 at 12:00 PM

Mom’s confession: Why I let my 8-year-old daughter do roller derby

Paisley can't get enough roller derby.

Paisley can’t get enough roller derby. Photo by Jules Doyle

By Jill Hoven

As I celebrate my 11th Mother’s Day, I find myself contemplating some of the more, shall we say, interesting life lessons I’ve learned over the past year. For instance, it turns out my kids can bounce (which comes in handy when the dog accidentally pushes one down the stairs); the fire department has an impressive two-minute response time to my house (a lucky break, because I had no idea I should factor this into my home-buying equation); and signing up my then-8-year-old daughter for a summer roller-derby camp two years ago was one of the best decisions I ever made…

Yes, my daughter plays roller derby.

It was with more than a little trepidation that I agreed to let Paisley go to camp in the first place. At the time, I had almost no exposure to roller derby, although I knew of the popularity of Seattle’s Rat City Rollergirls – and the hip, if fairly risqué, pin-up fashion sensibilities of said Rollergirl. I’d never watched a bout, but knew it involved lots of bruises inflicted from knocking each other off the track.

But I figured the skating practice would make the annual roller-skating trip her school took (which represented her entire skating career at that point) a bit more fun. So 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.

We put her gear on, and off she skated, falling every five feet. I cringed every time her body slammed into the ground. But even when her head literally bounced off the track, 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.

She couldn’t wait until her second practice, but did make one request:  Instead of leggings, could she “maybe wear some tights?” And because it was so hot (there was no air-conditioning at The Rat’s Nest, and it gets warm in the summer), she wanted “some of those tights with the holes in them.”

Uh-huh. Turns out my eyebrows actually can touch my hairline.

Somehow, in the moments between picking herself up from all those falls, my daughter had noticed that some of the older girls, who were helping the coaches run the camp, wore fishnet stockings.

I stayed calm but let her know that the coaches had suggested new skaters wear comfortable leggings. Leggings were fine.

And I stopped there, not mentioning that I’d never buy her fishnet stockings.

I didn’t see her skate again until her fifth practice and I was 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 incredible energy, this drive. She was just so determined, so focused, so absolutely delighted to be there. Her passion for roller derby was RADIATING from her little body.

She skated up to me during a water break, a huge smile lighting up her face, and told me 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 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 with the youngest division, the Tootsy Rollers (ages 8-12). she assigned to the Orange Crush (as opposed to the Turquoise Terrors, though all the skaters feel like they’re one team). The youngest skaters don’t travel or compete with visiting derby leagues, so are arbitrarily divided up into two teams for scrimmages and bouts).

Over the past two years, Paisley has slowly adapted her entire wardrobe – and even mine – into shades of black and orange in solidarity with her 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.).

And, I must admit that 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 this world 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 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. They look adults 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. 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, honestly, I couldn’t be happier knowing that roller derby will be in our life for a long time to come. As a mother, I couldn’t be more grateful for the life lessons she’s been learning while falling head over wheels in love with her sport. No matter what color her wardrobe, or her hair.

But the fishnet stockings? Yeah, it still ain’t gonna happen.

The Rat City Rollergirls home team championships are Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at KeyArena.

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