ROLLER DERBY XTREME!
All of us are given a name at birth. Whether it’s Anna, Amanda, Apple or something not starting with the letter ‘A’, we learn to like or loathe it. Either way, we live with it.
But there’s a whole subculture of women out there who have taken on a second name. Like Breakface At Tiffany’s. Or Iron Maven. How about Florence Night-in-Jail or Ziggy Skullbust?
Then there’s me, Barack Oharmher.
At 20-years old I decided to enter the world of roller derby by signing up to a newly formed team on the Gold Coast. I became what they call “fresh meat”: a term used to describe new roller derby recruits. And boy was it appropriate!
In 12 months I learned how to skate, how to stack, how to slam and how to verbalise falling on my ass with an array of colourful language. I also adopted a new name. Since the original ones I wanted – Alfred Bitchblock and Mariah Scary – had already been registered on the International Roller Derby Name Registry (it’s a thing), I let myself get swept up in the excitement of Barack Obama’s 2008 victory and became Barack Oharmher.
A punny alter ego is just the beginning.
When you want to become a roller derby girl you need to grow some lady balls. You need to be okay with taking a shove from another woman, and then accepting her hand to get back up on your skates afterwards.
You need to become confident competing in fishnet stockings and bike pants, when really all you want to do is tug your singlet down to your knees.
You need to be able to bite down on your bottom lip and strangle out the words “I’m fine” after taking a particularly brutal tumble on to your tailbone. Most importantly, you need to be brave.
At my first-ever training session I knew no one, which is daunting enough in and of itself (let alone adding spinning wheels into the equation). I squeezed into line besides a tall woman with a tattoo sleeve and green and blue-tipped hair. She introduced herself as Sandy, a single mum looking for a new hobby.
The woman on the other side of me was Beth, a librarian-looking accountant who had always wanted to take up the sport since watching it on TV as a kid. What followed was so close to the “If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball” scene in Dodgeball that I looked over my shoulder to check if Vince Vaughn wasn’t laughing quietly in the corner.
Alas, no. The coaches were serious as they had us skate the circuit while throwing witches hats, (small) spanners, balls and roller skates as we tried to dodge them and the falling bodies of our comrades.
At the time it was terrifying.
A few hours later we were laughing about it over red snakes and Gatorade, which perfectly sums up the nature of a sport that is equal parts hard-core and humorous.
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