What to Do When Your Skate Breaks in the Middle of a Roller Derby Tryout

by Matthew J.X. Malady

People drop things on the Internet and run all the time. So we have to ask. In this edition, writer Sara Morrison tells us more about what it’s like to try out for a roller derby team and then have your skate break.

Roller derby tryouts! QUEEN ELIZADEATH II RIDES AGAIN — oh wait my skate just broke. Thanks @iSkateRiedell!

— Sara Morrison (@SaraMorrison) July 19, 2014

Sara! So what happened here?

There was once a time when I lived in Los Angeles and played roller derby for the Los Angeles Derby Dolls and was known as Queen Elizadeath II, and it was good. (Here I am being ejected from my final game because I got too many major penalties, oops!). But then I moved to New York for grad school and stopped playing, and it was bad. I got fat, and I missed the sport. So when I got this new job in Boston, I decided to get back into derby as a way to meet new people (I don’t know very many people here), get back in shape, and play roller derby again, which I love.

You have to try out to get into the Boston Derby Dames. If you’re good enough, you get placed in the more advanced section, which means you’ll be able to be drafted onto a team that much sooner. They don’t hold tryouts too often, so if I didn’t make it in now I’d have to wait several months before I’d have a chance to try out again. So this was important!

I was nervous that I wasn’t in shape enough, and that it had been too long since the last time I played derby, and that I would be terrible and bring shame to my old derby league. Plus, Boston’s league plays a different kind of derby than what I did in LA (it’s played on a flat track instead of a banked track), so I wasn’t sure if there would be things I had never done before or what.

The tryouts are three hours long, and you’re skating the majority of that time. Ideally, you’re skating in a squatting position. It’s meant to exhaust you so they can see how fit you are and if you’re still able to skate safely when you’re about to collapse. So I knew I was in for a haul. But I had my favorite flavor of sports drink (fruit punch and mixed berry. No, not just fruit punch. Fruit punch AND mixed berry. There is a difference) and ate a nice big breakfast (bacon, eggs) so I was as ready as I’d ever be.

There were sixteen girls trying out. I was assigned the number thirteen, which in retrospect should have been a sign that this might not go perfectly for me. Basically they have you do skills you need to master to be able to play the game safely — kinds of stops, jumps, falls, being able to turn around and skate backwards — and test your endurance and skating form. (It’s based on this if you want to know the nitty gritty details.) I got through all that, and I was feeling pretty confident that this was going to go well for me! And it felt really good to skate again and I was looking forward to being a Boston Derby Dame! Then we moved on to contact drills and that’s when my toe stop fell out of my skate.

I thought it was just a matter of screwing it back into the plate (that’s the metal thing that connects the wheels to the skate boot), but it wouldn’t screw back in. It turned out that the threads in the plate were damaged somehow, and no toe stops were getting in there ever again. Which meant that: A) I’d have to replace the plate, which wasn’t exactly cheap at $160 (or get the manufacturer, Riedell, to replace it for free since it’s less than a year old and not supposed to, like, self-destruct in the middle of a skating session), and B) I’d have to skate the rest of tryouts without a toe stop. That’s a bigger problem than you might think — you use toe stops a lot in derby. Not just to stop, but to help you dig into the track, turn around, accelerate (you can “run” on them), stuff like that. In my old league, if you didn’t have toe stops, you weren’t allowed to skate. So when my toe stop came out and wouldn’t go back in, I thought I wouldn’t be able to continue with the tryout and I’d have to wait until December to try again and that sucked.

How did it all shake out? Did the busted skate cost you a spot in the league?

I just sat on the side staring at my broken skate for a while and looking sad when the assessor told me I should just do the rest of the tryout without a toe stop. There were a few times when I leaned forward on a toe stop that wasn’t there, and I didn’t have the agility I would’ve liked, but at least I got through it. I was lucky that we’d already done the toe-stop-necessary drills.

So yes, I made the team! I’m really excited but the first practice is August 2, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to ship my skate back to Riedell, get the plate replaced, and get it shipped back in time. Right now Riedell and I are trying to figure out who will pay to ship the skate from Boston to their factory and back.

Lesson learned (if any)?

I’ve been doing derby for over five years now, and my skate has only broken one other time, when Haught Wheels slammed into me so hard that she actually bent the axel between two of my wheels. You don’t really expect plates to break, and there isn’t much you can do to fix them when they do. It’s actually easier to skate with a broken bone than a broken plate. I know that because I did that once. So I don’t think there is a lesson to be learned here. Unless Riedell doesn’t replace the plate, in which case the lesson will be not to buy anything from Riedell. We’ll see.

So I’ll just leave you with a lesson I learned early on in my derby career: Always wear your mouthguard. At one practice, this girl either forgot or didn’t want to put her mouthguard in, and she made it maybe 20 minutes before she fell on her face. Then we had to waste valuable practice time crawling around on the ground looking for her tooth. Don’t be the girl who holds up practice with her broken tooth pieces. Wear your mouthguard.

Just one more thing.

On the way home from tryouts, at the train station, this girl came up to me and asked if I’d played roller derby in LA. I was wearing my LA Derby Dolls shirt and she recognized the logo. It turned out her cousin was my former teammate.

Matthew J.X. Malady is a writer and editor in New York.