A Decade of Derby with Varla Vendetta

A Decade of Derby with Varla Vendetta Photo by Danforth Johnson

I’ve probably tried to write this post 15 times in the last month, every time, it gets longer and longer. How do you sum up a pivotal decade of your life?! I am not complaining. The reflection has put a smile on my face throughout every attempt.

2005, Windy City Rollers' first season. Photo by Gil Leora.

2005, Windy City Rollers’ first season. Photo by Gil Leora.

10 years. 3 continents, 6 countries, 22 states. Planes, trains, buses, cars and, of course, skates have taken me across this globe. 154 games for my city, 5 games my state and 9 games for my country. Thousands of scrimmages and pickup games. On flat tracks. On banked tracks. I’ve lived a lot of life alongside beloved folks.

When I entered into this sport, excited just to be able to cross over and dodge kids at roller rinks, I would have never imagined skating in circles with my friends would change my life so profoundly. We all came so far: from fishnets mavericks to elite athletic machines, pioneering a full contact sport. I have felt glory, devastation, exhilaration, pride and the pain of several broken bones. I gained a derby wife. My career has allowed me to participate in charitable events and to meet so many inspiring kids through those charities. I got to share in this experience with my parents who carved their own niche as medics-to-all, in this derby community. My days were filled with incredible opportunities like speaking to renowned journalists and being in music videos and a commercial for Nikon.

Tucson, 2006. Roller Derby "Champs". Photo by Gil Leora

Tucson, 2006. Roller Derby “Champs”. Photo by Gil Leora

I have been able to experience a little bit of everything. I started skating with the Windy City Rollers in September of 2004. Beginning locally, with the Hell’s Belles, we worked our way to win the local Championship Ivy King Cup in 2008. With WCR Windy City Rollers All-Stars, I was able to play in all 9 WFTDA Championship tournaments since the inaugural one in 2006. Two of those years, I served as co-captain. WCR took 2nd place in the world in 2008! I had the great honor of representing the United States as a member of Team USA Roller Derby, for the first Roller Derby World Cup in 2011, where we won the tournament against 12 other countries. I was lucky enough to get sponsored by Atom Wheels as an Atom All-Star. One of the first multi-league All-Star teams, FSOP, added me to their roster in 2008. A vote by peers won me a place on Team West in the first Rollercon Roller Derby All-Star game in 2014. Coaching has brought me as far as New Zealand and Germany, and allowed me to work with skaters here at home, alongside coaches who have taught me so much about the game. I can claim I beat Brian Urlacher and Derrick Rose in a 2010 vote for Chicago’s Favorite Athlete! Hours have been put in. Many sacrifices were made. It’s all been so rewarding.

After 10 gratifying, life-altering, character building, transformative years of playing roller derby, it is time to retire from competition. WFTDA Championships 2014 will mark my last games as a Windy City Roller. I’ve got mad respect for the athletes on Rose City and, even if that final game was a loss, it was to excellent competitors. I will still skate practices because I love to roller-skate. I would love to continue coaching, maybe even have more time to do it abroad, and work with new skaters coming up in Windy City. I have been cautioned that it is hard to retire just once.

Varla's last bout, WFTDA Champs 2014. Photo by Danforth Johnson.

Varla’s last bout, WFTDA Champs 2014. Photo by Danforth Johnson.

The difficult part of retirement won’t just be bidding farewell to skating and competition. It will be the regularity of seeing those dear to me. I saw most of my teammates for 4-5 nights a week, for months at a time. My teammates have been family, growing yearly, with every generation of the WCR. Each autumn, I could count on a weekend of post season tournaments, where I would bump into friends from other teams, catchup, and adventure. Sure, I can still go to tourneys and cheer on friends, but it won’t be as frequently, and I know it won’t be completely the same.

This derby revolution started because of ambitious, self-sufficient people across the world that wanted to create sports leagues, when there were no deep-pocketed financiers lift them off the ground. It happened on the sweat and time and passion of enterprising misfits and dreamers. It happened without paychecks. It happened because of the love of a game and a community of devoted. The results are astounding. How many other things could be accomplished with that kind of dedication?! The next thing I tackle will be achievable only because of this journey I have skated, beside strong and uplifting people, helping shape the person I am today. My derby career has equipped me with skills that will fuel my next endeavor. I’m excited to take those skills into new passions. The track is wide open.

Windy vs Rose City, WFTDA Champs 2014. Photo by Gil Leora.

Windy vs Rose City, WFTDA Champs 2014. Photo by Gil Leora.

Thank you all for fueling and cultivating this sport. We are the support structure that is a team, the tough competition that motivates, the medics (WCR, ours will always reign supreme!) who coach us through healing and manage our nagging pains, the fans and the announcers that bring energy to games, the camp participants that give back more than they know to coaches, the photogs that document beautiful historic moments with their cameras, the coaches that guide their benches to see clearly during the chaos of competition, the officials who work sometimes very stressful and thankless roles, the parents, the partners who stand by their loved ones sides, the people who created businesses that sustained this sport, those journalists (especially on Derby New Derby News Network and derbylife.com and Derby Central) who cared enough to find out more and publish pieces about oft-overlooked female sports, the little girls coming up and fueling the next generation of women roller derby athletes, everyone who tosses a log on this fire to keep it burning. I lucked out for getting a moment in time to experience this “us.”

This was originally posted on Varla Vendetta’s Facebook page. Reposted with permission. Check out an album of pictures she put together of her different experiences in the derby world. 


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