Suck It Up, Buttercup

How a total shrimp windled and shoved her way to self-confidence.

by Courtney Downing '19

Courtney Downing rollerskating

Courtney Downing ’19 (#369: Dang!SheFine) is a communications and marketing major at Nazareth College and a member of the Roc City Roller Derby league.

Everything you need to know about me can be summed up by the sentence “I play roller derby.”

When I first came to Naz, this took most by surprise due to my 5’4” frame and self-diagnosed introverted personality. I found speaking up almost painful, and as a result I largely kept to myself. I sipped my medium-roast coffee with two sugars and two creams in the back of the class, hoping I wouldn’t get called on.

Now, I’m a completely different person—well, except for the height. I’m more outspoken and outgoing than before coming to Naz. I sit in the front row of my classes and only pause my participation to take a sip of my dark-roast coffee, taken black.

How did I manage to do a complete 180 in a year and a half? I slipped on a pair of skates, shared a track with women twice my size, and learned how to hit.

At first, roller derby takes a lot out of you. This stuff doesn’t come easily: unless you lived in one of the few cities with a junior league, derby is completely new and the challenges are never-ending. When I first started practicing with the B-Sides (the team I’m on now, similar to a JV level), I was the youngest on the team; some girls had been skating for more than eight years, most had played together for several seasons, and all were bigger, better, faster, and stronger than I was. I was incredibly intimidated and stuck to my normal tendency of staying quiet.

However, in my league, giving in to hesitation isn’t an option. I had to completely disregard my comfort zone and try things that felt completely unnatural; basically every movement in derby, from crossovers to hockey stops, uses muscles that you otherwise wouldn’t. On top of learning these awkward moves, my coaches had me start scrimmaging when they felt I was fit for it, not when I felt “ready.” Before I even felt stable in my skates (or had managed to coordinate a “boutfit” to wear), I was out on the track jamming and juking against our varsity level team.

I can certainly say I’ve found my niche within the community. Derby is a sport founded on attitude and individuality. Its culture celebrates inclusion and idiosyncrasies, and it encourages women to unleash their nerdy, creative, or tough side. Names, numbers, and outfits are all unique to the skater, and there’s no shortage of personalities. Tracks transform into hubs where women of all backgrounds, sizes, shapes, and lifestyles come together to wreak havoc on skates. Derby emphasizes that there’s no such thing as a perfect body, and that everyone—yes, even little ol’ me—has a lot to offer.

As a result, I’ve gotten much more than fundamental sports lessons out of this experience. Sure, I get my weekly dose of teamwork and leadership skills, but I’m more proud of the progress I’ve made mentally. I’ve learned to believe in my abilities, push any negative thoughts aside, and just go for it.

So, who am I today? I’m a confident, bold, and strong personality. I’m not afraid to speak my mind, and you can bet that if I have an opinion on something, you’re going to hear it. I’m open to everything, I can take on anything, and I’m afraid of nothing—and it’s all because I play roller derby.

Communication and media program

Learn more about Downing's major here.