The Cost of Being a Derby Girl

The first thing you need to know about me is that I play roller derby. I try to work roller derby into the first or second conversation I have with anyone, because the sooner you know I play derby, the sooner I can tell you how roller derby can change your life. The bumper stickers are all true: Roller derby saved my soul; it gave me friends and a community, and made a bookworm into an athlete, something not even the love of a good man had been able to do before. Picture the scene in She’s All That when Rachel Leigh Cook walks down the stairs in that red dress after her transformation, except instead of high heels, I clunk down the stairs in quad skates covered in skulls. Roller derby changed everything for me, even the way I think about money.

I’ve been skating a little longer than two years, and when I first started, I gave myself an unlimited budget for whatever I needed. I knew that I’d need to spend money on practices and gear, and I didn’t want to feel guilty about buying what I needed to be successful at this sport.

In our league, practice costs $10 per practice, which isn’t bad, but as soon as you buy gear, the numbers start adding up. I didn’t want to waste time on cheap skates that I’d have to replace when I got better, so I skated on rentals longer than I wanted and saved for good skates. I skate on Riedell Wicked 265 boots, Revenge plates, and RollerBones Koi 92a wheels. Altogether, I paid more than $500 for my skates, the most I’ve ever paid for “shoes,” and they are worth every penny. Add in another hundred bucks or two for gear, some of which I’ve already started to replace (kneepads, helmet, toe stops, mouth guards) and another couple hundred for derby clothes (uniform, shirts for scrimmages, replaced tights) and I’ve probably spent close to $1,000 on gear for derby in the year and a half since I joined my league.

Unfortunately, my budget hasn’t stayed unlimited. In switching from working at a law office to working for a nonprofit—my preferred career—I’ve gone from full-time employment to part-time, which means that spending as much on derby as I do on groceries is pretty hard to justify. It’s tough too, when lately I’ve ended every month with less money than I had to start.

Derby is one of the most expensive, most rewarding luxuries I allow myself, but this isn’t the time for luxury. To counteract against watching the dollars drain from my account, this month I cut back on derby: I went to fewer practices, avoided going to away scrimmages, and carpooled to practice. I didn’t buy an amazing T-shirt, blue with skulls, that I would have worn every day for the rest of my life. I said no to beers after we won our last game and went home again, saving my money even when it hurt. I was pretty proud of myself as the month wrapped up, and was feeling pretty glorious, like I was about to coast into a win.

The feeling dissipated after I was hit with a $98.47-punch to the stomach, the kind of brutal hit that knocks the wind out from you with an “OOOF!” That was my car insurance payment, automatically deducted from my account on the second to last day of the month, wiping out my small savings and sending me into the red by around sixty bucks.

Once, when I was a new skater, I jammed against one of the A-team players, Roller Rage Rosie, and managed to slip through the pack first and get the lead. As I skated into the straightaway, I felt awesome until Rosie hip-checked me into the ground and skated away to score points. It was a small motion, one I should have seen coming, but I ate track instead. Until now, I didn’t know that money could feel like that. Sixty bucks seems like a small number, but in derby, all it takes is for one wheel to cross the line and you are out of bounds. The same is true in math. I went sixty dollars out of bounds this month because I didn’t see my insurance coming.

When I figured out I was short on the first of November, I was pissed. I was mad at myself for forgetting the payment and mad that I’d failed. “Why even bother?” I thought, “Why even try? I can’t live on this income! Why did I bother skipping beers? Why didn’t I buy that T-shirt? I was doomed to fail before I started!”

The stronger, better part of me—the derby player—gritted her teeth. Sixty dollars is less than one hundred, so it isn’t that bad. It’s close to success, and I can just cut sixty next month. I can find it somewhere in my budget—a way to escape a hip-check. I’m disappointed, yes—I’m horribly frustrated that I didn’t remember this, that I didn’t see this automatic payment coming in on the turn, but I’m mad too, and when I’m mad I won’t forget. I’ll know it’s coming next month, and I’ll be ready.


Anne Canter lives in San Diego.


15 Comments / Post A Comment

Part-time with health insurance, I hope.

helpmeimahustla (#5,166)

$10 per practice is STEEP!

I skated for almost 4 years, competing in Regionals and Nationals for 2 of those years. That meant plane flights to Regionals and Nationals, hotels in those cities. Your food budget goes up because you’re starving all the time. Coconut waters for practicing with no air conditioning in summers. Replacement gear. Replacement jerseys. Customized bite guard. The price of playing derby at any level is high. The price of playing derby at competition level is astronomical, even if you manage to retire with health insurance and without needing immediate surgery. If I could, would I go back and change any of it? Absolutely not. It was worth every penny.

garli (#4,150)

As a former derby girl let me throw this out there: USARS insurance will never ever ever give you a penny. Make sure your own health insurance has good injury coverage.

jquick (#3,730)

You have to pay to practice? That is crazy. What about the money from ticket sales…where does that go?

amirite (#2,677)

@jquick For most leagues? It goes into the cost of putting on the bout. My league is lucky to break even with ticket sales. It’s expensive to book a space that’s big enough to lay down a track, and there are all kinds of other costs: first aid supplies, rope, tape, sound system rental, etc. On top of that is practice space rental, uniforms, travel expenses, equipment. In my league they don’t charge per practice, but skaters pay monthly dues. We fundraise a lot, but a lot of it comes out of players’ pockets.

jquick (#3,730)

Why do so many who write on this site work for a non profit? I don’t know one person IRL who does.

WayDownSouth (#3,431)

@jquick that is a very good question. I’ve often wondered that myself. Maybe non-profit = government

peas of mind (#3,959)


Huh, you don’t know anyone who works for a nonprofit? I have to rack my brain to think of any friends who aren’t either working for a nonprofit or in grad school.

jquick (#3,730)

@peas of mind I’m older and in the Corporate America world. But don’t have any friends, friends of friends, fam.. In non profits. I do know some profs. Does that count?

sea ermine (#122)

@jquick A quick google tells me that: “The nonprofit workforce is the third largest of all U.S. industries behind retail trade and manufacturing.” So it might just be that a lot of people work for non profits and a lot of those people end up here.

I work at a nonprofit but it’s a university, so it’s not what a lot of people think of when they hear nonprofit (I usually think of a charity). I know a decent amount of people came over here from the hairpin, which had a lot of people working at non profits (also a lot of people in grad school) which may have helped. I also think that a lot of readers are fairly young and it seems like more people in their 20s and 30s are interested in working for organizations with a mission/purpose than people in previous generations. These are all just guesses of mine.

frenz.lo (#455)

Ooh, girl. I did derby for about 5 years. It was exhilarating and fun, and I made just about all my friends in this town, and my now-husband. I learned that it was possible for me to be athletic, and I learned a lot about committee work, and my own capabilities when it comes to planning big events with a lot of moving parts.
I also went through a number of years being pretty bitter and regretful about the whole thing, because of the opportunity cost. If you’re already well on track with your paid career, your experience is probably going to be different from my own, but as one lady with overdeveloped quad muscles to another, I say to you to be careful about setting boundaries with this sport, and be careful you’re not pouring all your career energy into roller derby. Even if you’re carefully skipping beers and t-shirts, don’t let (for example) derby e-mail or whatever your league uses to communicate eat up your working hours. It’s pissy and spoilery to go on like this, so I will say congratulations for finding a sport you love and finding your toughness.

BATS! (#2,770)

I’ve been involved in derby as a skater for about a year, and agree with the author: it can be expensive and sometimes when I look at the cost I wonder how I would do it if I wasn’t employed in a relatively lucrative field. But it’s an incredibly rewarding and transformative sport, and I am so glad I got involved.

muush (#521)

What’s wrong/bad about being a bookworm?

amirite (#2,677)

@muush Nothing. But speaking as a bookworm-turned-derby-girl, it’s been really surprising and rewarding to find something in myself that I never imagined I would. If you told me 5 years ago that I would get up early on a Sunday to do pushups and burpees and then practice a sport for 3 hours, that I would spend most of my time and money on it, that I would sit around a tv with a group of girls hollering at the screen about the outcome of a game, I would have laughed in your face. A lot of people in derby were similarly disinterested in sports before they stumbled upon this one, there’s something about it that attracts those of us who wouldn’t normally be interested in a team sport. It’s not better than being a bookworm (most of us still are), but it a lot of bookworms have discovered another facet of themselves because of it.

amirite (#2,677)

I’ve been playing derby for just over 3 years, and it’s the most expensive thing I do besides eat and pay rent. My league is small and we don’t have a lot of neighbouring leagues, so we do a lot of travelling in order to compete, which really adds up. I definitely have to prioritize it over other things in my budget in order to be able to play, but luckily it takes up so much of my time that I don’t have a whole lot chances to spend money on other things anyway.

Right now I’m in need of new wristguards ($80 for the kind I want, I don’t like to fuck around with my wrists), and a new helmet ($80). And I have my eye on some $200 plates, but that will have to wait until my credit cards are paid off (5 and a half months!).

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