This is an article I wrote for Birthing magazine last year. Since writing it, I have returned to playing competitive roller derby for the CRD Jane Deere and B-52 Bellas. I’m also still coaching the kidlets.
My name is Andi Linquent and I started playing roller derby in May 2010. My children were 2, 4, 7 and 9 at the time, and I was transitioning to single motherhood for the second time in my parenting life. I had spent the previous three years working towards a university degree, raising children, running an online business and generally not saving much time for myself. I was angry, depressed and resentful, so I decided to make a change.
Sport was nothing new to me; I spent a significant chunk of my life training in Muay Thai and playing baseball. I love team sports and I love challenging myself physically and mentally. My love for sports and my desire to be physically active had not changed after having children. What had changed however, was perceived risk and responsibility and societal expectations, making participation in sport much more challenging. It was no longer simply an activity I engaged in, but rather something that I had to justify and defend involvement with.
The idea of risk and responsibility is fairly unique to mothers, and particularly single mothers, where society gauges the validity of mothers’ participating in certain activities based on their perceived level of responsibility. The line of thinking is that mothers cannot engage in any sort of risky activity because of their responsibilities as a mother. After all, if I were to hurt myself while engaging in said risky activity, who would take care of the children? Think of the children! The thing is, fathers don’t usually get the same reactions when participating in sport or various “risky” activities. They do not carry the burden of “risk and responsibility” because of sexism. There, I said it, and I don’t even care.
When I joined roller derby in 2010, I had to answer a lot of questions from friends, family and even complete strangers. People were concerned about my priorities not being in proper order, and they assumed that because I participated in a sport (a full contact sport at that), I did not prioritize my kids. This could not be further from the truth. I justified playing roller derby because physical activity and sport are priorities to me, and I know that lessons are best taught to children through example. I knew that if I wanted my children to grow up to be autonomous people who make time for themselves, then I had to model that.
Though I knew I shouldn’t need to justify my participation in roller derby, I still did. I had my justifications at the ready, sharing them with inquiring minds and using them to keep my guilt at bay. Mother guilt is another one of those things that arose because of unrealistic expectations, socially constructed gender roles, and the social policing that occurs within our own circles. The fact that I even had to justify making time for myself is problematic. How about mothers should make time for themselves simply because they are worthy of taking time? Again, when a father participates in a sport, his intentions and priorities are usually not in question. I’ve never been one for gender roles and living up to society’s expectations of what a “good mother” looks like, so the assumptions and judgments did not deter me.
Roller derby is unique among sports, because it is woman dominated. However, just because a sport is woman dominated, does not mean that it is easily accessible to mothers. I was lucky enough to be involved with a league in Lethbridge (Lethbridge Roller Derby Association) that was kid friendly, and having space for children to play while we practiced was a priority. The onsite space for the kids made it accessible for me as a single mother. The league in Calgary however, during the same period, was in a phase where kids were not allowed at practice. This had a negative effect on the members who were also mothers, making it difficult for many of them to attend practice. The policy went out with a new Board of Directors, as some of the mom members had decided to join the board.
When I joined Calgary Roller Derby Association (CRDA) in 2012, kids were once again allowed to be in the practice space. As a parent, I still ensured that my kids had activities to keep them busy, and if they were excessively loud I attended to them. Sometimes there would be an older child there who would help wrangle the younger children. I had no problem bringing my children to practice with me, just as I had no problem attending their activities.
August 2015 marked my last summer playing for the CRDA All-Stars, and ultimately my competitive play in general. Our team was traveling to Vancouver for “Derby Night in Canada,” and my partner and I decided to turn that trip into a family vacation. We loaded up five kids, all our stuff and my derby gear and drove out for a week. I was guilted by people in my life who thought it was selfish of me to drag the children to my sporting activities and try to pretend it was a holiday. I’m laughing right now while typing this. My children still, to this day, tell me about how they want to go back to Vancouver, and how it was their favourite family holiday. Now don’t let that fool you into thinking my kids don’t go anywhere, because they do. All my children have done more traveling than most people do in a lifetime. They are very privileged, mostly thanks to their other biological parent. They loved that holiday because it was the family spending time together doing fun things.
Years after I started playing roller derby and bringing my kids to my practices, I am witnessing the effects it has had on my children. Three out of the five kids actually play roller derby (started in 2015), and I am their coach. They are strong, motivated, unique individuals who love to skate fast and learn the sport. They love to challenge themselves and work to improve their skills at every opportunity they get. They tell me they love it when I coach, and our time on the roller derby track has become some of our most valued family time.
Up until September 2017, we were driving from south Calgary to Airdrie for our junior roller derby practices. It took us roughly an hour to get there, and winter night drives could be pretty scary. I was coaching there as well, so being late or missing practice was not really an option. The long drive and the inaccessibility (particularly for parents who don’t drive) motivated me to start something a little more accessible. I worked with CRDA to create Calgary Junior Roller Derby (CJRD), and held our first practice in September 2017. Although it has been a ridiculous amount of work, it has been worth it. I get to lace up and skate with 25+ kids who all blow my mind each and every week. There are four or five coaches at every practice, most of whom are members of CRDA. What a huge change from seven or eight years earlier, when kids weren’t even allowed in the practice space. Watching and participating in the evolution of local roller derby has been quite the ride.
Currently there are 17 moms who skate with CRDA, out of approximately 80 members. Some moms bring their kids to practice, others leave them at home, but there is an understanding that there will always be children kickin’ around somewhere. Out of those 17, only one currently plays for the all-star team, which is a slight decrease from between 2012-2015 when there were two to three moms at any given time. There were four mothers on Team Canada’s 2017/2018 roster.
Roller derby is a fantastic option for women in sport, and there is no doubt that many will find the physicality, empowerment and camaraderie they seek in such activity. There is still a lot of progress to be made when it comes to mothers in sport, but with the “by the skaters, for the skaters” motto that most roller derby leagues follow, the more mothers that join, the more mother friendly it will become.
The social expectations and discourse of risk and responsibility continue to restrict mothers from participating in sport, so when it comes to making sport accessible in general, the work needs to take place on a larger scale than just individual sport leagues. That said, small changes made by individual leagues are a great start. Whatever the case, I personally found my participation in sport to have a positive effect on my parenting and myself on a whole, and I would highly recommend giving it a go. Ask for help where needed and remember that you are worth taking time for yourself without justification.