On a rainy Monday evening, autumn 2011, my friend Lisa and I are queued in a corridor in our local sports centre, waiting for our weekly pilates class to start. For both of us it’s been a tumultuous year. She’s recovering after the recent removal of a uterine fibroid, me an ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage. Gentle exercise is our way of reacquainting ourselves with our wayward bodies. ‘They’ve started doing roller derby up at Rhondda Fach,’ she says. ‘I saw it on a poster somewhere.’ Though I’m not entirely sure what roller derby is, the words evoke some vague memory from my time five years ago as a writer-in-residence at the University of Texas: a troupe of female roller skaters, muscled and tattooed, skirring effortlessly along the Guadalupe Street sidewalk, the low sun glinting off the tops of their polished helmets.
‘Have you seen Whip It?’ Lisa asks next, pulling me back to the narrow terraces of the Valleys. ‘A Juliet Lewis film, all about roller derby. They get to wear fishnets and make-up and whiz around on a banked track.’ ‘Let’s do it!’ I tell her, before I even get to see Drew Barrymore’s directing debut: a coming-of-age story about an aimless teen for whom roller derby becomes life-affirming, set in Austin, Texas, and a popular introduction for many girls now taking up the sport. ‘OK,’ she says. ‘I’ll stick our names down.’ As easy as that. The kettle-bell class are filtering out of the hall; we’re filing in. We begin to unroll our yoga mats, smiling excitedly. We both attended junior roller disco as kids in this very room. We can move proficiently on quad skates and that’s all there is to it, right?
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