Meryl Williams
December 29, 2015 10:42 am

The year before last was a tough one for me on a lot of levels: In 2014, I changed jobs; I ended a long-term relationship with the guy I lived with; I had to find a new apartment; and I experienced a wave of sexual harassment encounters. 

By the time 2015 started, I was finally getting my bearings and trying to figure out what I wanted to do next. Luckily in January of this year, I took a chance on an intro to roller derby class in Chicago, and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. Right then was the best possible time for me to start playing, and it turned out to lead to a world of opportunities for me.

I had wanted to play for a long time. Like many skaters who skated well before me, I too was really taken with Drew Barrymore’s Whip It!, circa 2009. That movie came out during a full-on revival of roller derby, which saw a resurgence in popularity in Austin, Texas in the early-to-mid 2000s. The December after I saw it, my family got me skates for Christmas. I loved that Ellen Page’s character found community and solidarity, even if I later realized no one can be as good or fast as she was when she first starts.

The thing that always stopped me from trying roller derby wasn’t a fear of injury or of falling on my face (literally or metaphorically). It was the start-up costs – you can’t play without knee and elbow pads, a sturdy helmet, wrist guards, or a mouth guard, and it felt like a lot at once. However, by the time 2015 began, I was finally on the career path I’d been working toward, and in a financial place to invest in some derby gear.

In my intro level practices, I was one of the better skaters, albeit only because I had more experience. I skated a ton as a kid, and many of the women in that level were new to wheels of any kind. After succeeding at that level, I moved on to the advanced group, which turned out to be full of retired roller derby girls or otherwise really skilled skaters. It was more of a challenge, and at first, I was afraid to talk to the women who’d clearly been at it for a while. After maybe two weeks, they invited me and my intro level friend out for drinks after practice. From there on out, we felt like we had all known each other for years.

Throughout 2015, I saw all around me how roller derby was improving my everyday life. I trained week after week and saw my body change and strengthen. I had a new group of friends, I was getting better and faster, and I’d never felt stronger. The support of those women, and my new confidence level, helped me go to court last winter to give a statement about being sexually harassed by a city cab driver. I stood up for myself, for my personal safety, and hopefully the safety of others by making a stand. 

I also spent most of 2015 single and decidedly not looking, and I think it did me a world of good. Instead of spending nights on the couch with a guy and a pizza, I focused on practice and on my writing. 2015 was my most successful year of freelance writing yet.

Halfway through 2015, I said goodbye to my Chicago derby girls and moved to Portland, Oregon. I joined the Wreckers, the recreational league of the Rose City Rollers. I’m still new to the league, but it’s been amazing to learn from the best team in the world – the Rose City all-stars team won the WFTDA championship in November. It was amazing to celebrate this win with my new league, and I was felt star-struck being around the teammates who brought home the victory.

And finally, roller derby inspired me to write a collection of essays about the sport, the culture surrounding it, and its impact on my life. I’ve been working on a memoir about this special year and all the changes that came with it. With any luck, the next will be the year I get my first book published.

2015 has been a whirlwind. I’m in such a different place now then when it started, but there’s nothing I would change. Bring on 2016!

[Image via Searchlight Pictures]

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