For those who join a team, roller derby easily becomes more than just a past time. It becomes a way of life. Though it isn't professional, joining a team takes a level of commitment not seen in your average amateur sport.
Despite the enthusiasm, sometimes life takes a different turn. Changes to family and job situations can mean a move to another city. Those unwilling to hang up their skates for good start looking for a new team.
While the Houston area has many roller derby leagues from which to chose, Houston Roller Derby is the only Women's Flat Track Association ranked team. This season sees the return of several former transfers and a new beginning for some recent ones.
March 23 will be Jenetic Defect's first bout with HRD's Bayou City Bosses. Late last year, she and her family moved here from Chippewa Valley Roller Girls in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
"Derby is an instant way to meet amazing people that you have a common interest with," she says. "It is refreshing to know you will be welcomed to a derby community with open arms and have the ability to make true friendships that will last a lifetime."
T-Wrecks, who transferred last September from Brewcity Bruisers in Milwaukee, also joined to make new friends, but had to face down fears during the tryout process.
"I immediately got nervous at the first day of tryouts," she admits. "All the drills we were running were stuff I had never done. Everyone else seemed really good." Finding the courage to finish the September tryouts, T-Wrecks passed and was eventually drafted to the Brawlers home team.
Passing the tryout process and being drafted onto a team comes with its own unique set of challenges. For Flyon Maiden, a current Brawler and a 2010 transfer from Northwest Arkansas Roller Derby, the level of commitment turned out to be more than she expected. In Houston, after a skater passes tryouts, she is in the Fresh Meat pool until being drafted onto a home team. Missing practice means missing an opportunity for prove dedication and skill. "It's dog-eat-dog when it comes to getting drafted. I had the mindset to rock," she says.
Jenetic Defect echoes that same concern, even as a member of a home team. "Currently, I travel out of state for work during the week, so taking the extra step to maintain the required attendance policy, as well as having the derby/family/work balance has been a challenge at times."
After finally making it onto a team, it's sometimes a struggle to overcome life's challenges just to make it to practice.
Dallas Scars, a new Valkyrie, moved to Houston early last year after skating with the Dallas Derby Devils. As a graduate student studying physical therapy, the "cost and time commitment were huge factors."
Dallas has a lot of skill to offer her team this season. It's apparent to anyone who sees her skate. But she admits, "School is my main focus, so I had to see if it would work with my schedule."
Many of Houston Roller Derby's transfer skaters encourage anyone considering transferring to a new league to research first.
"Ask any and all questions you have about practice times, dues, bouts, requirements. Look at traveling to and from practice or bout venues," says Dallas.
Flyon adds that looking into a league's ranking "gives a good gauge of overall league skill level and what you will be expected to uphold and hope to learn."
Jenetic prefers the hands-on approach by attending a practice as a guest. She says it shows how practices are run and what to expect.
After committing to transferring, it's perfectly normal to be nervous. Rabid Monkey joined HRD's Brawlers after leaving her old league, Brazos Valley Derby Girls in Bryan, due to pregnancy and the decision to move closer to family. "I was nervous about joining such a large and relatively established league as HRD. My old league was very small and brand new, and I really didn't know what to expect."
If the idea of skating with a more competitive league is frightening, Jenetic reassures, "Don't second guess your ability or let fear of the unknown dictate what you love to do."
Conversely, those used to being the most skilled skater on the team should prepare for a reality check. The Angie Christ transferred from Austin's famous Texecutioners in 2011 and now skates for HRD's All-Stars. She says, "The most common mistake I see with a skater transferring leagues is setting unrealistic expectations of themselves and/or the league. I have seen great skaters transfer to both Houston and Austin that were among the elite skaters in their previous league and expected the same in their new league."
Angie believes the expectation of being the "big fish" leads to disappointment and ultimately burnout. "My advice to transferring skaters is to give yourself some time to get accustomed to your new league. Then, of course, do whatever possible to become a 'big fish' again."
The decision to continue a life in roller derby can sometimes be difficult, but T-Wrecks sums it up. "It's definitely not as simple or as easy as I originally thought, but it has been very rewarding."
Both new and old transfer Houston Roller Derby players kick off the 2013 season this Saturday, March 23. Doors at Bayou City Music Hall, 520 Texas Street, open at 6 p.m. The first bout, featuring Bayou City Bosses versus The Valkyries, starts at 7 p.m., followed by the Psych Ward Sirens versus The Brawlers. Tickets start at $15. For more information, visit HoustonRollerDerby.com.