Derby Day

Derby Girls

You Gotta Love a Good Jam

It’s a rainy Saturday and the three of us (PJ, Collin, and I) are heading to a roller derby match in Žižkov between the Prague City roller Derby and the visiting Holy Wheels Menace.

None of us has seen a roller derby match in the last thirty or so years. The last time was probably when I fell asleep watching Saturday morning cartoons and woke up to helmeted women skating in circles and knocking each other over rails.

Nevertheless, we are excited. There will be beer and women in shorts bashing into each other on roller skates. Moreover, we get to watch a sport. A contact sport.

The neighborhood is quiet and residential, not the sort of place one would expect to stumble upon a roller derby. But as we near the arena, we hear the unmistakable echoes of stadium rock. They are the same tunes that we’ve heard before (American) football games and hockey matches. Our hairs bristle, we know what this means:

A sporting event is about to take place.

We get into the gym and make our way to a good standing spot along the sidelines. The music is booming, the crowd is chanting, some beating drums in a rhythm which suggests the prelude to a ritual sacrifice.

Then the women come out. And it’s better than we imagined.

OK look, we see sports a lot in the Czech Republic (or Czechia, if you want). The Czechs are a very sport- and activity-oriented people. I pass a small soccer pitch twice a day which is always hosting organized matches. Anybody who jogs or walks around Prague stumbles across tennis matches, golfers, cyclists, soccer matches, a basketball game, Ultimate Frisbee in the park. Swimming is huge, as is yoga, skiing is the national obsession, PJ and I do Aikido.

So sports are all around.

But there’s something to be said for the excitement that comes along with a high-energy contact sport. Despite the Czech’s propensity for working The Final Countdown into nearly any situation, I think even they’d have a hard time kicking off a tennis match with it. The meditative environment of an Aikido lesson isn’t exactly conducive to a pumping version of Thunderstruck.

The music’s going, the women line up for the start of the game with three from each team grouping into something like a loose scrum and one girl from each team (wearing a star on her helmet) lining up next to each other as if readying to race.

It’s at this moment that we realize we have exactly no idea what’s happening or what’s about to happen. None. We would be more clued-in at a bake-off or a curling match.

They start.

I know this sounds like a ridiculous male fantasy: pretty women with thigh tattoos and face paint, who could quite frankly throttle us and decorate their helmets with our scalps and who are wearing short shorts and tank tops wrestle and battle and grind in front of us while we drink beer. But despite the possible overtones, we are soon more amazed by this tough group of women playing a tough sport with heart.

Their grittiness is compounded by tongue-in-cheek names on their shirts: Hell Freyja (one of our favorite girls despite being on the opposing team), Lucky Lu (our favorite jammer), Doris the Explorer, Clemydia, and (I swear to Dog I am not making this up) Banana Clit.

Additionally, the gym also looks like a hospital’s leg-injury ward. We count at least four girls hobbling around the sidelines, cheering for their teammates on crutches, their knees, ankles, or entire legs wrapped up in bandages. And during the match it’s apparent how someone can easily get hurt. They play hard, hit hard, and fall hard; there is constant contact and serious dedication and hustle.

It’s a lot of fun to watch these women play.

And in a matter of minutes, we become intensely involved. This is in no way hampered by the fact that ten minutes ago we knew not one thing about roller derby. We’ve added enough roller derby terminology to the part of the male brain reserved for sports vocabulary so that we can shout at the game. What the hell! Did you see her break that jam pack? Wow, she’s a great jammer. Wait Wait. Wasn’t that a grand slam!? Come on ref, what the hell!

After a hard-fought back and forth match, during which the elusive method of scoring never becomes clear, the Prague team loses by four points. We line up with the crowd to give the girls high fives for a hard game well-played. Energy is still coursing through the place.

We head off into the city energized. It’s time to throw darts and talk about our favorite zombie soap opera. We’ll probably trade recipes, I’m hoping to make PJ’s zucchini bread.

We’ll leave the contact sports to the women.

If you are in the mood to watch a good, fun contact sport, I highly recommend checking out the Prague City Roller Derby team. Find their website here.

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