How fat is too fat for roller derby?
November 16, 2007 8:45 AM   Subscribe

So a new roller derby league just formed in my town and I'm intrigued. It looks like a lot of fun in a badass kind of way that speaks to me. But what about my butt?

Or at least the size thereof, and the rest of me for that matter. I'm 5'4", about a size 22. I'm not going to translate that into pounds (a girl needs some secrets) but no bones about it, I'm fat. Quite fat.

I lost about 130 lbs 4 years ago, but quite a bit has come back on this past year. I had been going to the gym 3-5 times a week, but since the gain I've stopped going out of embarassment. It's been since last spring since I had a gym habit. I'm interested in trying out for derby, but I haven't been on skates since I was about 13 (though I understand it's pretty easy to pick up again). And if I were 50 lbs thinner I'd be on it in a heartbeat. I see it as a potentially decent fitness regimen (the team has 3 2-hour practices a week). But at age 33, I'm old in terms of derby chicks. I see those fit, tough, young 20-something grrrzl out there and it has me feeling pretty self-conscious and tentative.

Any bodacious derby girls out here in MeFI land? Can an old fat broad manage it? I'm aware of the basic requirements of great pads, helmet, good skates, etc. but what I'm looking for is more guidance in regard to how physically feasible is it for a large person to be speedskating and manage to stay upright without spending the whole bout tripping over myself and crashing every few seconds? How much does large size affect balance & agility? What can I expect for severity and frequency of injuries? Where would I find equipment to fit a size-gifted person, and any special equipment needs I should consider? And finally, what about the social dynamics of being in a contact sport with people who are much younger and fitter? Anything else I'd need to keep in mind before moving from idle speculation into action?
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
YES. You can do it. You are NOT too old and you are NOT too big. You will get in shape and it will be hard it first, but you can manage it.

There's a sweet Rollerderby league in my city, and there's quite a few big gals on the teams, and plenty of women over 30. Good luck with it!!
posted by dead_ at 8:59 AM on November 16, 2007

My derby-girl friend is build like the proverbial brick... house. It's actually an advantage for certain positions - you're basically a high-velocity linebacker. It's WORK, though, make no mistake - and broken wrists/arms/fingers seem to be the top injury, although worse is possible. Is this league flat- or banked-track?

(I spent an hour or two at the rink trying to decide if I wanted to try out - turns out that the ankle I screwed up in high school is too big a barrier. I'm a big girl myself, though, and the ankle was really the only barrier, imo. Practice would fix everything else.)
posted by restless_nomad at 9:01 AM on November 16, 2007

Force = mass * acceleration
posted by Mr. Gunn at 9:03 AM on November 16, 2007 [2 favorites]

The Windy City Rollers, in Chicago, have a number of pics online showing teams in action -- you can probably get an idea how personal size works from them. Personally, I think you're just fine.

It's quite a demanding sport. The practices can be crushing; you may want to start running wind-sprints to gear up for it. A friend of mine was in it for a number of years, loved it absolutely to death, and was a large gal. Mind you, she eventually had to quit because it was wearing out her joints.

I will also mention that several of the women in WCR couldn't really skate well before starting, so if you could get in some personal practice ahead of time you should probably be OK. They're not gonna start you as a jammer right off the bat, but you should be able to keep up at practices and the like.

Dig around on the WCR site, it'll probably help.
posted by aramaic at 9:04 AM on November 16, 2007

You would be my HERO if you did it!!

I want to learn to surf but am reluctant for the same reasons you give. I'm trying to talk myself into it for next summer.

Inspire me, babe.
posted by mccxxiii at 9:04 AM on November 16, 2007

Okay, I registered for MeFi just to answer this question. I recently retired from a roller derby league and can absolutely say that derby completely transformed both my life and my (at the time overweight) body.

First of all, the women on my league ranged from 21 to nearly 50 years of age. A bit of girth can be a true asset, both in helping you "ground" yourself as you maintain speed-skating position and in helping you block other skaters. Speed skating is way less about being upright than being rooted and low to the ground -- in fact, the more upright you stand, the more likely you are to lose your balance! It's all about a low center of gravity, almost as if you're squatting or sticking your butt out. Strong knees are a boon -- I'd recommend lots of squats, lunges and wall-sits in addition to as much stretching as you can manage.

As far as injury -- I eventually had to retire after blowing out my knee in a total freak accident. If your league has any sense whatsoever, it will have a great training program that focuses on safe, injury-free skating. Injury is a risk, but not a necessity, and the more stable you are on your skates, the better. There are custom pads available if the standard Pro-Tec type elbow and knee pads don't fit you (but they're only available in guy sizes so run larger than most female sizes), so don't sweat that aspect of it.

Finally, I think you'll find that roller derby is an incredibly body-positive and age-friendly atmosphere. It's all about celebrating athleticism and the female form in all of its incarnations, and it's fucking fun to boot. If it speaks to you, I say go for it. You'll meet women of all shapes, sizes, and walks of life, and if your experience is anything like mine you'll probably manage to make some strong friendships at the same time. <>
posted by mynameisluka at 9:11 AM on November 16, 2007 [4 favorites]

As a fan of the Gotham girls, there were regularly larger women who kicked major ass in the ring. If you have the commitment, just go for it and have a great time!
posted by piratebowling at 9:11 AM on November 16, 2007

At risk of getting myself banz0red, I want to add that my WCR friend would echo mynameisluka.
posted by aramaic at 9:14 AM on November 16, 2007

Yeah, as for Gotham Girls, a popular favorite is Beyonslay, who is 30, fairly large, and a phenomenal blocker. And not just because she's big, although that helps, but because she's a skilled athlete who consistently puts herself in the right place at the right time.

The roller derby community seems really welcoming and friendly, in my limited experience. Certainly it's worth a shot, and it would be a great way to get lots of exercise!
posted by Palaverist at 9:18 AM on November 16, 2007

Seattle's team has big big girls and teeny tiny girls and everyone in between. There's one girl who's at least a size 22 or 24, and she's a blocker you do not want to mess with.
posted by matildaben at 9:45 AM on November 16, 2007

Yeah, as for Gotham Girls, a popular favorite is Beyonslay, who is 30, fairly large, and a phenomenal blocker.

She's also a friend of mine, and might be willing to talk to you by email about your specific concerns. Shoot me an email (in profile) if you're interested, and I can ask her.
posted by lassie at 10:02 AM on November 16, 2007

Go for it, girl! If you are tough enough to get out there and take the hurtin', your size won't matter. I'd love to join roller derby, but unlike you, I am not tough and fear having my ass whipped by a bunch of hardcore, tattooed chicks - the kind of girls I'd rather go drinking with than compete against.

I live in Houston and our roller derby league has women of varying sizes and ages. At 35, you are definitely NOT too old. I believe the oldest member of our league is 49. Most are in their 20s and 30s.

Good luck to you!
posted by Ruby Doomsday at 10:07 AM on November 16, 2007

I'm 35 and I do roller derby, I just don't skate per se. You are not too old or too heavy. Check out Assassination City to see what our Dallas girls look like... almost all of them (as in all but about 10) are under 5 foot 6, and lots of them are heavier. it's in your favor if you are blocking. It's a great way to lose weight and increase your core strength.

Most leagues require you to have medical insurance of your own before you join so that if you DO get injured, you are covered and they are not liable.

The worst thing I have seen personally happen is two girls went down hard at practice and girl #1 blew her knee out because she didn't have her pads on. It was disgusting... out of courtesy I won't link to the photos, because it looked like she'd been shot. ALWAYS WEAR YOUR GEAR, EVEN IF YOU'RE JUST PRACTICING SPEED SKATING.

Another girl went down at an awkward angle and shattered her ankle. She was in a wheelchair for about 3 weeks, then a crutch, and now she's skating again.

I'm not trying to scare you, because you can get worse injuries driving to and from work. Just don't be stupid about your protective gear and they actually will teach you how to fall so you don't hurt yourself... it's part of the training.

Derby girls are like a sister hood and are very supportive as well as being fiercely competitive. Lots of the girls have kids, and the age range is from 18 to 42... the worst you can do is try out and not be accepted. Why not at least try out?

FYI, one of my best friends lost 20 lbs. in the first month after she joined. She has amazing legs and a perfect ass now and I hate her (kidding, kidding... not really.) So good luck!
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 11:36 AM on November 16, 2007

Oh, I forgot to mention that most of the league girls have sponsors through the local skating rinks that provide discounted skates and protective gear, and they WILL have gear that fits you.

You will have a custom-made uniform, usually, or one of the girls will customize an outfit just for you with modifications, so size is not an issue for the gear. And you'll need to pick out a clever derby name. Might I suggest one that I wanted to use but didn't end up doing it... Janice Kickin' Some? (after Janice Dickinson). Your number on the back can be "1st derby supermodel". : )

The idea is to take a famous name or pun and make it your girlie ass-kicking name on the track...

: ) ps. we have the same birthday so yay for badass Geminis! High five!
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 11:41 AM on November 16, 2007

If not rollerderby, roller hockey!

No one guards a goalie like a fat girl, nor terrifies an offensive guy into not colliding with you.
posted by beezy at 1:18 PM on November 16, 2007

Response by poster: Wow... I didn't expect the level of kindness and support from all of you: Thank you!! I'm getting more pumped and closer to thinking I can do this. Mr. McSnuggy's all for it too (I think he just gets a kick of the idea he could tell his coworkers that the wifey plays roller derby). So I'm hearing a whole lot of "Ra! Ra!" and very few downsides. Serious question: I do have mild arthritis in my feet & knees. Not crippling, but enough to make me wince going up the stairs after having put a few pounds back on. I'm fine hiking/walking long distances but would arthritic knees be a dealbreaker on wheels?
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy at 2:10 PM on November 16, 2007

Absolutely not - when I skated regularly, my knees rarely hurt.


- pad your knees and shins (if you can't during a game, do it during practice, since a fall will hurt you more than everyone else)
- stretch
- stretch some more
- spend time standing around your skates to strengthen your feet and ankles - i used to stand on a piece of old carpet in front of the tv
- do a lot of squats or other exercise to strengthen your quads and behind, so they do the work instead of your knees and shins
- warm up and cool down
- ice after a serious workout as a precautionary measure
- drink ever so much water
- yoga can help you feel more agile, get you used to supporting more weight on your quads and stretch (my friend the goalie found it make the biggest difference in all the training he did)
posted by beezy at 2:47 PM on November 16, 2007

blimey, I wait ages for a roller derby question on askme and two come along at once! All I can say is do it, do it, do it and echo mynameisluka. It's a sisterhood, you'll meet some amazing women, you'll feel great about yourself and you are absolutely not too fat or too old or too short. I'm our league's youngest member at 23 (5'3", stocky build, power blocker - in this game being short and stout is a blessing!). We have girls of all shapes, ages and sizes. The beauty of derby is there are advantages to every body shape.

As a heavier girl you will want some serious kneepads and probably gaskets too. Don't skimp on your protection - you get what you pay for and you'll fall a LOT. I just upgraded my kneepads from basic skate pads to proper chunky vert pads after coming home with aching bruised knees a few times, and haven't had any problems with my knees since. You might want to look at the 187s or Rector FatBoys.

Finally, here's part of a post the above-mentioned Beyonslay made to the roller_girls yahoo group (well worth joining) on the subject of being a big girl in derby (she's addressing a woman considering weight loss surgery to help her skating):

When I started derby nearly two years ago, November 2005, I weighed about 235 and was a size 18 and now I weigh 235 and am a 16. I nearly left tryouts because it appeared to me that so many of the other girls trying were skinny. Although my numbers haven't changed
much in the last two years, I am a new person—inside and out!

In the beginning I was exhausted after league practice warm up. I vividly remember looking at the other girls in my league while they were doing conditioning drills and thinking that my body was a freak of nature that was incapable of even participating in such vigorous skating. I was very lucky that I had the encouragement of bigger girls in my league who would share their struggles with endurance or achy backs. I also had people celebrate my small victories, such as making it through my first pace line (which was a full 8 months after I started derby).

My advice to you is to give yourself ample time for your body to
change as a result of your skating. It's okay if you only notice
that you're more agile or have a stronger core after a year of
derby. I continue to improve as a skater and try to push myself to do things I didn't think possible. Although I'm a born blocker,
lately I've been challenging myself to jam in league scrimmages.
This season I'm even on my league's travel team which qualified for WFTDA nationals. I never in a million years thought that I would be able to skate fast enough to keep up with such fast packs. My body's still changing, becoming firmer, more resilient and my endurance is improving. As these changes happen, I get more confident about taking risks and stepping up my game. I know I haven't hit the height of my skating curve and imagine I'll still be 235 when I do!

Surgery is very drastic and I encourage you to give yourself at
least two seasons of derby to see your body's changes before making
your final decision. I wish you the best of luck with this tough
decision. It sounds like whatever your choice, you'll have lots of

Viva choice and viva la derby,
Beyonsláy, #Top 40
Gotham Girls Roller Derby (NYC)
Bootyvicious Blocker/Destiny's Problem Child...

I hope she doesn't mind me reproducing that post (I do not want to get on the wrong side of that lady!) but in summary? go for it! :)

#04 Fox Sake
London Rollergirls
posted by corvine at 3:14 PM on November 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

And just some more tailored follow-up:
- our league's average age is 28, so you and I are the same distance from that. Our oldest skater is 40. Age is not an issue for us, socially - some of us are party girls, some of us aren't.
- Pads for larger skaters: Sin City Skates recommend TSG Force IIs as they run very large and are good solid pads.
- You'll probably want skates with a metal plate (as opposed to nylon - nylon flexes more and is not recommended for heavier skaters)
- You're short, so your centre of gravity is low. Once you get your skate legs and bend your knees properly, you'll skate low and you will be hard as hell to knock down. The little skinny jammers will just bounce off you and go flying, and you will feel like a BADASS.
- The most common injuries in my league are ankle (broken/sprained) and knee (ligament damage). I've been skating six months and already sprained my ankle pretty badly, but I am the type of girl who hurls herself at others in the heat of a bout (or practice) with little regard for her own safety. You may well be more careful than me and last longer without an injury :)
posted by corvine at 3:36 PM on November 16, 2007

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