There’s no doubt that Emma Emms has a fiery spirit, from the top of her head which is radiating with bright red hair, to the tips of her toes which always are in roller skates. Emma got into roller derby half a decade ago in 2016 and learned about it in an unusual way—her chiropractor, who was a sponsor for the local league.
Emma currently is on the Pikes Peak Derby Dames league, which is based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Normally, the league practiced anywhere from two to five times a week, but Covid has prevented any practice at all. Emma explains that the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) has been pretty strict on guidelines for safe league practice. But Emma hasn’t let that stop her, and she’s found a great way to keep skating.
“Because Covid has really put derby at a standstill, a lot of skaters have figured out ways to stay on skates without the sport. I started with park skating. It always was a ‘when I retire from derby’ goal, but the pandemic gave me an opportunity. I love it just as much as roller derby. It gives me a thrill I’ve never experienced in any other sport of hobby.” Emma fell in love with park skating so much that she and her husband built her own personal half pipe ramp in her fenced in backyard.
Emma goes on to explain how park skating has pushed her physically—so much so that she’s lost a great amount of weight from it. “I don’t own a scale or weigh myself, so I have no idea how much weight has been lost. But one major thing other than the weight loss is clear—happiness.” The tricks she has to perform at the park require her to push her body in certain ways to complete them, but it’s also really pushed her mentally. While the tricks are hard to complete physically, there’s a great amount of fear that comes over her when getting ready to do them.
But Emma has always been fearless. When she first got into roller derby, she was working full time at an emergency veterinary clinic as a veterinary assistant. Laura Ling, one of her coworkers and friends worked closely with her. “Emma never let fear stop her from caring for the animals, even if it was hard,” Laura states. “We had a lot of feral and aggressive cats and dogs come in, many who had heightened aggression due to the pain that they were in. It can be really scary to just grab a cat ready to claw you in order to treat them. Emma would jump right in without hesitation, doing whatever she had to in order to keep the animals and her coworkers safe.”
It might be the past animal experience that Emma still harnesses, but she has a new baby to protect—her son. “I absolutely think that derby has really helped strengthen me in my ability to be a mom. I have to be outgoing and try new things, and that can be scary. But it makes me more open. It also gives me a chance to have strength and an outlet for my frustrations, so I can focus on being happy and loving when I’m with my son.”
Emma’s husband Cory can attest to the fact that derby has really helped her in her role of mother and wife. “I’ve seen such a change in her since she started derby and in this last year itself. She’s really pushing herself to be the strongest that she can possibly be, not just for herself but for us as her family. She’s so supportive of us, but it’s partially because she knows how much it changes you to have support from others. She learned that from derby.”
Gabrielle Puglisi, who wrote an incredible article for the Smithsonian Magazine, shared the same thoughts that derby is a good natured, supportive group. “Our community is supportive, both on and off the track. We post to our league’s Facebook group, soliciting carpools, gear recommendations and pet sitters… Skaters sometimes invite the entire league to their house for the holidays to ensure everyone has a place to go.” (Puglisi, G., 2020).
When asking what attracted Emma to get into derby, she knows the answer easily. “Honestly, what most attracted me to the sport was the contact aggressive nature and the fun natured players. We can go from hitting each other and knocking each other halfway across the track to laughing and dancing with opposing teams. We love to hit and smash our bodies into each other for fun.” The contact aggression is real, so much so that Emma broke her left fibula when she first started (she obviously was back to skating as soon as possible).
Emma is so connected to some of her teammates, they even got matching tattoos to show off the love of the sport and the bond they share. And it’s a bond that can be open for all women. Emma insists that her favorite thing about the sport is that women of all shapes and sizes can play, be talented, and be unapologetically aggressive.
“Derby has taught me to be proud of who I am.”
Puglisi, G. (2020, March 12). The rough-and-tumble sport of roller derby is all about community. Retrieved March 29, 2021, from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/rough-tumble-sport-roller-derby-all-about-caring-community-180974235/