Justine Sanborn found the one sport that finally made her feel like the badass she is
I'd always been interested in extreme sports—snowboarding, swimming, aggressive roller blading—but was never very successful with any of them. It wasn't until a friend told me about this thing called roller derby (he explained it like women's rugby mixed with hockey on roller skates) that I really found my sport. (Meet the Women Are Changing the Face of Girl Power As We Know It.)
"So you can hit people?" I asked him, only half joking. (Roller derby is a contact sport where teams score points when a jammer, the team member responsible for scoring points, laps members of the opposite team's blockers, the team members responsible for preventing jammers from passing, around a track, gaining a point for each blocker passed.) Yes, I learned. Yes, you can.
I was living in Minnesota at the time and there was a local team that was just starting up, so the timing worked out well. After my first practice with the St. Cloud Area Roller Dolls, I was convinced this was the sport for me. It made me feel powerful. I didn't get that same spark of strength in other sports I'd tried.
I was lucky to find roller derby right at the end of my college career, and I think it helped me a lot with transitioning into my professional life. When I was younger, I had a hard time saying no to things. But there's a philosophy in derby, "there's no sorry in roller derby," and it made me realize that I don't need to apologize for who I am—I can stand up for my opinions and be strong and confident. The roller derby has definitely taught me how to be an assertive person and just gives me this great sense of mental and physical balance. (Psst... Here are 25 Reasons Why It's Great to Be a Sports Fan.)
Each league is also a skater owned and run non-profit, so it takes all of us to make our bouts, or games, and other public events happen. It's not just a sport; we do just as much work after practice.
I skate with Gotham Girls Roller Derby in New York City now, and even though roller derby has been a consistent part of my life for the past four to five years, it's still a way for me to take a step back from reality and acts as an outlet for any pressures or anxieties I'm feeling. Plus, I got to pick my own derby name—I'm B000M.
Derby names go back to the '70s, when roller derby was very much a spectator sport, where players used stage names. When roller derby saw a resurgence in the early 2000s, it was one of the elements that the leagues brought back. It's a way to empower the players. Having that persona and having that name makes me feel like a warrior; it makes me feel strong.
Recently, I've been working the word "athlete" into my vocabulary—as in, calling myself an athlete. I never saw myself as being particularly fit before, and at first, playing roller derby was more about mental growth. I didn't even realize the level of athleticism that I was working at. (If you don't believe me, just go to a local roller derby bout—they're intense, and so fun to watch!) (The founder of espnW calls right now 'the age of the female athlete.')
Friends say to me now, "You practice and train just like any other athlete would," and it's true—we put in an insane amount of work on and off the track, doing weight training, interval training, running, and agility drills; sometimes practicing up to 12 hours a week. But it's still been a process of really visualizing myself as an athlete.
It's really quite exciting to start seeing myself that way, and I'm actually surprised at the progress I have made as a teammate and skater. When you love something so much, what you gain from it is worth all of that work.