In what is arguably the best Disney movie (or at least the best one about an experimental alien), Lilo defines the Hawaiian concept of Ohana. “Ohana means family,” she explains. She later talks about her family as small and broken, but is assured by her newest family member that it’s “still good.” I can relate to that idea in so many ways, most strongly through my derby family. Sometimes when there are big emotional things going on in the lives of my leaguemates I respond to their concerns with that one word: Ohana. To Lilo, Ohana means family and family means no one gets left behind or forgotten. To me, it has even more meaning. Derby family means when you hurt, I hurt. When your car gets hit with a cinder block at 65 miles per hour, I'm on the side of the road with you, as are the rest of the teammates. It means going to your kids' events, sitting in the room while you have surgery, driving 3 hours to see you after a wreck, going with you to court for custody battles, coming to your baby showers, holding you in your losses, and celebrating with you in your “real life” victories.
Sometimes it means going to funerals. I came into derby a broken person. I didn't know I was broken, but I was. I used to roll my eyes when anyone said this, but roller derby truly saved my soul. I lost my dad 11/2 years into my derby career. Though I am incredibly fortunate in the fact that I have the best mother a girl could ask for and a husband with the patience of a saint who has been my rock for nearly 16 years, it was my roller derby family that got me through that month. I realized then that my derby family was going to be a part of me forever. Each of them, in their own way, had fixed part of what was broken...like gluing shattered glass back together into a mosaic in which they had supplied their own colorful bits where pieces were missing. Through our friendships, I know I have contributed my own pieces to the mosaics of their souls.
This month our derby family suffered a loss that rocked many of us to our cores. We lost a founding member of the men's league to an automobile accident. He was on leave due to life, but he was still one of us. Like so many others, he came to derby a little bit broken. I like to think that when he left us, it was with a mosaic of his own. The loss of this young, charismatic brother has left a hole in my soul and in the souls of all of my brothers and sisters in derby. In times like this, the old me. ..the anxious me. ..the broken me... would have run away from derby. Away from the pain. Lord knows I've tried to walk away for less pressing and more selfish reasons. I've even gone to several practices with a letter of resignation in my skate bag but could never quit because I felt like I owed my derby family more than that. After all, it fixed what was broken and I can't say that about much of anything else.
I’m not exactly a social person. I’m much more comfortable watching tv alone than being in a loud bar and my favorite part of afterparties is laughing at the silly antics I get to “mom” my group out of. I’ve driven an hour to go to a practice for another league and skipped practice to go to IHOP because I couldn’t work up the courage to go inside. (And let’s face it – I’m a fat kid and IHOP French toast is the best.) Derby has brought me out of my shell in so many ways and made me brave when I don’t want to be and coaching has given me skills I use every day at work. When I have to miss practice or derby events, I always feel a little bit of guilt and I almost never miss “just because.” I feel like derby is much more than a hobby. It’s a way of LIVING. (And let’s face it – I’m too cheap to feel like I’m not getting the most out of my dues.) I never want to miss the moments when my fresh meat get the derby bug. I never want to miss the stories or the camaraderie or the empowerment. I never want to miss the chance to fix someone who is broken…to be there when I am needed… to try to give back to derby what it has given me. I never want to miss the chance to have one last practice with my brothers and sisters should the unthinkable happen again.
Ohana, derby family. I love you all.
Dread Pirate Robyn
Southern Illinois Roller Girls and Brigade of Handsome Gentlemen