Crazy in love with roller derby

It was nearing 11 p.m., and I was speeding for home with a frozen chicken patty wedged under my freshly broken tailbone after falling while lunging after a jammer. I thought of my job covering sports, my two kids, my Ivy League adjunct position.

My dignity.

"Should I really do this?" I thought, as I painfully punched the clutch to shift gears. "Is roller derby really worth it?"

I'd been playing for only a few months, but it was already too late. There was only one answer to that question, and it was worth choking back a half dozen Advil a day for a solid three weeks to calm the ouch. All while never missing a practice.

Aye captain, she is.

Playing rollery derby is like being part of a cult. At first, it seems innocent enough. I will get in shape! I'll meet new and interesting people! I will wear funny socks!

And once roller derby has her little tenterhooks in you, that's when she starts to reel you in. Your family hears from you less and less, unless you are trying to sell tickets for an upcoming bout. You take a CrossFit class to get stronger. Your sock drawer will no longer close.

"It does consume your life if you let it," said Gotham Girls skater OMG WTF, aka Danielle Flowers. "In a good way."

This weekend, I'll be covering the Women's Flat Track Derby Association 2011 national tournament in Broomfield, Colo. There will be 12 teams filled with women who feel the same way I do about their relatively new sport. It has changed the trajectory of many of their lives, broken up their unworkable relationships and created new ones. It's turned them into athletes, if they weren't already.

Courtesy Manish Gosalia

Pass the Advil and get out of my way. No amount of pain can lessen McManus' love affair with roller derby.

Skaters rehab broken wrists and ankles, and negotiate with bosses at their full-time jobs to make room for a full-time passion. The women who will skate at nationals are the best of a sport that is exploding at the grassroots level, and many wonder what is next for a movement that is about as "Do It Yourself" as you can get.

Roller derby, in its current incarnation as a flat-track sport predominantly for women, has been born out of a distinctly feminine aesthetic that's more Sid Vicious than Cinderella. But in the past five years as it has grown, derby has become distinctly more about the athleticism and less about Saving the Queen.

Take New York's Gotham Girls Roller Derby All-Stars. They went to Colorado Springs a week early to get used to the altitude. Before that, they rented a tent for their practice facility that simulated high-altitude training.

Each year on the track, derby has evolved as well. It went from a game of speed to a game that slowed down or even stopped, depending on whether a team was focusing on offense or defense. Some teams have a pivot skate backward and call out directions as she sees the pack. Other times it helps to force an immediate jam whistle, which a team can do if its players drop to a knee.

In other words, it's not about faking an elbow to the face and wearing pretty fishnets anymore. It's strategy and athleticism. With teams popping up all over the world, there will be a world cup this season. International competition has led to talk of possible inclusion in the Olympics. Or perhaps a professional league.

One skater said all it would take is "someone backing up a dump truck of cash."

It's time for skaters to dream big.

These women on the track this weekend represent hundreds more, perhaps rehabbing their first broken ankle or torn ACL and knowing it's already too late.

Roller derby has already dug in her hooks.

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