Roller Derby & T1D Truths

WRITTEN BY: Tori Vogel
PHOTOGRAPHY: Austin Russell and JPR Images

You know that ice breaker game that everyone makes you play during school orientation? That one where you say your name, Hi my name is Tori. You tell them where you’re from—I’m from Vero Beach, Florida. And then they get to the fun part — Tell us something interesting about yourself — my go-to response every time is, I play roller derby. Yes, I said it, roller derby. I usually get different responses from people: I get the “cringe face” like, ewww roller derby? Isn’t that violent? Or I get that, whoa! Roller derby? Like that movie Whip It? And while none of these accusations are technically wrong, they just aren’t exactly accurate; so let me give you a little background on myself, and then I’ll get down to the facts of roller derby.

I have been playing roller derby since late 2010. I was an inline speed skater first, and once I reached the age of 18, I started playing roller derby. Roller derby is a sport that anyone can participate in—we have women from the ages 18 to 50 in our league, we have women who have never played a sport in their lives, we have nurses, fire fighters, paralegals, personal trainers, tattoo artists, etc. There is no set “image” of a derby girl.

During a roller derby bout there are 4 “blockers” from each team and one “jammer” from each team on the floor at a time. There are multiple jams in a bout, each jam is a maximum of 2 minutes. You have two 30-minute sessions with a half time in between. The objective of the game is for the jammers to score points while the opposing blockers try to prevent her from scoring. You get 1 point for every opposing blocker that you pass and the team with the most points at the end wins. There are penalties of course, no head shots, no elbows to the face, no intentional tripping, you must use your hips or shoulders to knock the opposing players down or away.

Tori Vogel 5

I play for the South Florida Roller Girls out of Fort Pierce, FL, in my earlier days I primarily was a jammer, but as I have gotten older and more experienced I play both blocker and jammer, we call it a “blammer.” We are a smaller league of about 15-20 women; we bout against other teams from all over the state of Florida and neighboring states. We are like a sisterhood, we support each other on and off the track and when my diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes came up in September 2014, my sisters were there to support me.

If it weren’t for roller derby, I probably would’ve put off going to see my doctor even longer than I already did. I was always a very active, but when I had to sit out of a bout because I was too winded and exhausted, I knew something wasn’t right. As if the drastic weight loss and extreme thirst wasn’t an obvious sign, when my skills on the track started to suffer, I knew it was time to get checked out.

My doctors told me that roller derby may not be in my playing cards anymore with diabetes. They felt it was too dangerous and too stressful on my body, but I was determined not to let it defeat me. I took some time off to let my body adjust to the daily doses of insulin and the highs and lows that accompany the disease, but I have since started back up again. I have taught my teammates the symptoms that come along with it and keep my glucose meter close at all times. My teammate Backdraft Betty is a firefighter/paramedic and she keeps a close watch on me during bouts. My endocrinologist has since accepted me playing the sport of roller derby and has helped adjust my insulin dosages for bout days.

To me, it was so important to keep playing, not just for my health, but for my sanity as well. When I’m out there playing derby, nothing can stop me. I almost feel like a superhero, when I’m out there scoring points, and skating around — nothing can touch me, no one can touch me. My mind isn’t consumed with blood sugars and finger pricks and insulin shots. All I think about is me, my girls, my skates and kicking some major derby butt. I am a Type 1 diabetic by day and a roller girl by night.

Read Targeting Diabetes An Archer’s Story by Erika Anear.

Tori Vogel

Tori Vogel is 23 years old, born and raised in Florida. She was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes on September 16, 2014 at the age of 21, during her first semester of nursing school. She's a Registered Nurse, a derby girl, a dog mommy and a wife. You can find the South Florida Roller Girls on Facebook @SFRG772.