I feel like it should smell in here. This is the thought I just can’t let go of as I wobble precariously along a plastic track with all the other “fresh meat.” Sweat is dampening every inch of clothing touching my skin. My rental gear feels loose — and a bit itchy — as I maneuver myself through a clump of equally uncoordinated people; past a wall of old mattresses, a mountain of shoes and an industrial sized fan.

It should smell, right? But it doesn’t. This confuses me.

Not as much as these skates on my feet, though. As we tumble back and forth across the track, the whir of plastic wheels is easily lost to the cavern around us. Except, it’s more like a whir, whir THUMP THUMP whir. Every few seconds a newbie trips, catches themselves. Their reddened faces are plastered with relief when they don’t go careening into the ground.

Soon that’s exactly what we should be doing — it’s important to know how to fall safely within the roller derby’s mass of flying limbs and padding. With little grace, I inch forward and then throw myself down: first one leg, then the other. My hands are splayed out in front of me like some strange, fetal-position superman.


“That’s good, but it was a bit of a thump. It should be more of a ‘WHOOSH’ sound.”

I lift my head to see an experienced derby player grinning at me. It’s not uncommon — every person here is smiling, laughing, and chatting. The environment is distinctly relaxed, fun and comfortable in “The Bunker” despite the relative discomfort of this particular physical activity. It’s hella hot, but this is quite possibly the friendliest group of people I have ever had the pleasure of interacting with.

The two and a half hours go by too quickly as I relearn what words like “tripod,” “panties,” and “jam” mean in this strange new world. When class is dismissed I’m delighted in the simple satisfaction of our plastic wrist guards clacking together when we all clap our hands.

While I’m still not sure if human beings belong on wheels, Pioneer Valley Roller Derby makes it fun to try.

See you all next week.

Pioneer Valley Roller Derby will host Fresh Meat nights at 7:30 p.m.  on Oct 7 and Nov. 4th at “The Bunker” in Northampton. Rental gear is $5 and pre-registering is encouraged. Potential derby fans can also watch a Double Header at 4 p.m. on Sept. 19.