Photo by Craig Lammes
Since the Charm City Roller Girls formed in 2005, Lady Quebeaum (pronounced “Kaboom”) has been a driving force within the league. Her league mates mostly call her LQ, and many skaters look to her as the wise woman of CCRG. She’s known for being chatty on the track and off, giving great advice and perspective to newer skaters, and for never — despite broken bones and broken hearts — giving up. After 10 charming years, LQ looks back on the challenges of playing derby and the evolution of the sport. Bask in the derby wisdom, and remember to get your tickets to see LQ lead her team, the Mobtown Mods, as they take on the Junkyard Dolls on Saturday, Feb. 21.
When and where did you start playing derby?
I started here in Baltimore in 2005. A friend said, “Hey, we’re trying to start a roller derby league. Come on up.” So I did.
What are some of the significant changes you’ve seen in your time with CCRG?
You have to go back before there WAS a CCRG. We were a handful of people trying to get organized. Most of us had never even seen the game played before. We weren’t sure what roller derby was. Roller derby wasn’t sure what it was in 2005. We had folks show up in swell outfits but balk about actually doing any skating during practice time. Members had deep philosophical discussions about whether or not we were going to be a separatist community that disallowed men’s participation in any part of it. We practiced without helmets until someone got a concussion, and our practices included wresting on the whistle. We made EVERYTHING up as we went along, occasionally getting some help from nearby leagues (thank you, Philly Roller Derby) who had been around just a little longer than we had.
There is definitely less showmanship and more athleticism than there was at the beginning. People used to take smoke breaks during halftime, and I remember getting my toestop stuck in someone’s tutu once and having to call the jam from the floor. Now we’re all lifting and eating quinoa.
I’ve also witnessed the maturation of an organization over the years. I have to say, having stepped out of an administrative leadership roll a year or two ago, I’m confident in the folks at the helm at this point. Have you ever heard of Tuckman’s stages of group development? Forming, storming, norming, and performing? We’ve gone through that, in macro and micro versions at different times.
Photo by Tyler Shaw
How do you approach derby differently than you did at the beginning, or how is your approach different from that of newer skaters?
Every year I have played, this game has been different. So I recognize that and build on what I’ve learned in the previous incarnations of the game. One way that my approach now may be different from that of newer skaters is that I just do not stress. I used to want to throw up before every game. You couldn’t MAKE me nervous at this point. I’ve already fallen on my face wearing ill-fitting hotpants in front of thousands. I’ve already been booed. I’ve already been cheered. I’ve already been hauled away in an ambulance. I’ve already delighted and disappointed fans and teammates. I’ve already wowed and I’ve already been forgotten by hundreds of people. It’s one jam at a time to the best of my ability in that moment. That’s it. That’s all there is.
Everybody knows derby can be tough, to say the least. Lots of skaters quit after a few years. Why do you keep playing?
The short and easy answer is because I still enjoy it. The other answer is that I keep playing so that people like me will keep playing. There are going to be 20 year old life-long athletes who are drawn to this sport now that it is somewhat established (YOU’RE WELCOME). But there are also going to be people like me who are going to be drawn to it. I wasn’t raised to be an athlete. I started doing this when I was thirty. I was a zaftig single mom with a preschooler and a full-time day job who biked to work every day because she couldn’t afford the subway. This belongs to us, too.
One time in our first year, we did a promo piece with The Today Show, and stuck Natalie Morales on roller skates. I was one of our talking heads back then. The piece garnered a lot of positive attention both to the sport, which was very new at the time, and to our league. And we had a couple of interesting detractors, including a skater from another league who suggested we should instead “show off some of our fit girls.” She retired ages ago. I’m still here at 41. My resting pulse is 49 and I can bike a Century in my sleep. I win.
The spelling of my derby name is a result of a name challenge by a West Coast skater who had a similar name. At the time, if your name was too similar to another skater’s, they could ask you to change it. She was very gracious about it, but I was about to walk into divorce court when we finally talked, so I offered to change the spelling and be done with the issue. She retired about five years ago, too. I win again. Ray Lewis is younger than me, too. He also retired.,
Photo by Adam (fordprefectajt)
I’ve broken bones for this sport. I have two plates and fourteen screws in my legs. I’ve spent hard earned money, and I’ve lost precious time with my family for this. There are going to be heartbreaking setbacks that make you question everything about your life choices. But heartbreaking setbacks are in every arena in life, not just derby. You can let them crush you, or you can find a way to deal.
This is the first year in quite a while where I haven’t been nursing a broken leg that I’m not rostered on the All-Star team, and that’s hard. But the truth is that I’ve only played three games since my surgery (for a broken leg) and the loss of my mom this past year, and I’m still getting my chops back. It’s hard work and it isn’t instant gratification. But nothing on this earth makes me work harder for a yes than getting a no.
One time a few months ago I was lamenting out loud over the kitchen sink how I was feeling out of shape, wearing an extra twenty grief and fracture pounds, feeling like a bunch of muscles were missing. I thought I was muttering to myself, but my son, now an adolescent, overheard me. He said, in his most disdainful adolescent “duh” tone that he could muster, off the cuff and without thinking, “Uh yeah. You’re giant and strong, Mom.” So we can all stop what we’re doing right now, because apparently we smashed the patriarchy and won.
Care to make any predictions about the next 10 years of the sport?
I haven’t the foggiest notion, but I hope it’s still fun for people to play.