A Roller Derby Rookie
By Erin Pagel (aka PB & Jam)

My legs splayed in seven directions. Seven seems impossible, but after strapping on my new-to-me roller skates and safety gear and venturing onto the polished cement floor, my legs splayed in seven directions. I fell, got up, fell again. And again. And again.

My body was not impressed with my brilliant idea to learn to skate as an older-than-I-like-to-admit adult. I have always been somewhat athletic but was decidedly not athletic on skates. My first day as part of Med City Roller Derby’s new recruits training was less than inspiring. But for some reason I went back.

In 2010 I attended my first roller derby bout. Though I admired the skaters, I had 100 reasons why I couldn’t play, including not knowing how to skate. I came back to the idea often but always dismissed it—until the summer of 2019 when I decided to give it a try. “No experience necessary! We’ll teach you to skate!” taunted an advertisement for Med City Roller Derby. I signed up.


I had skated exactly twice in the past 25 years. I didn’t know the women in my skating group. Most were (far) younger than me. All seemed to be learning quicker. Still I went back. Again and again I went back. Sore, stiff, feeling REALLY old, I went back. We learned to fall (somewhat) safely, to skate backwards and stop. We learned to weave through cones and jump on skates. We laughed. We encouraged each other.

Each two-hour session flew by. All the stressors and challenges of life, work and parenting were forgotten as I tried to get my body to do what the coaches were teaching us. For those hours I was not a mother, I was not a leader, I was not in charge. I didn’t have to plan anything. I just had to try to do what I was told to do. It was freeing. I was terrible at skating, but I fought for each skill. I fell and got up quickly. I laughed at myself. I experienced the joy of completing a skill for the first time. It had been far too long since I had learned something truly from scratch. I had forgotten how exhilarating the small successes were and how much joy and freedom there is in being bad at something new.

Somewhere among the sore muscles, frustration and what felt like thousands of falls, we learned to skate. At the end of 12 weeks, four women passed the skill assessment, made the team and got to choose their coveted roller derby name. I became PB & Jam (as in Pivot, Blocker and Jammer—the three positions in roller derby). Teammates call me Jam. I became a teammate, a friend, a skater. I became a roller derby player.


Roller derby is a contact sport. Players wear safety gear, but injuries happen. My first injury kept me from skating for weeks, and I missed playing in our first bout where Med City beat St. Cloud 170 to 156. The following week we learned a tiny virus would end our season. There would be no practice and no games for the rest of 2020. Med City Roller Derby was undefeated, and my rookie season was over—but I didn’t play in a game.


With months of stay-at-home rules, skating has given me a new way to enjoy the outdoors. I skated a half-marathon, and it wasn’t the challenge I needed, so I skated a full marathon. I skate around lakes, on city trails and the length of the Douglas Trail. I love the speed and being outside. I love the breeze in my face and the feeling of flying. I miss my derby team, and I will skate with Med City Roller Derby when we can skate again. In the meantime, I’ll be on the trails. Or maybe at the skatepark.