Life on the fast track

I would like all who read these words to know the following: My name is Ernest C. Wilkins III and I am bad at roller skating.

Well, I was. See, I went and spent some time with the Windy City Rollers, Chicago's premier roller derby team. A cabal of ladies of various shapes and sizes, they're easily the most entertaining team we have in this city, excluding no one.

We proposed an afternoon where they'd teach me the ins and outs of derby, trying some basic moves and seeing how I shaped up. WELP, I showed up and strapped on the gear only to find myself looking like a newborn giraffe. You know, awkward, bowlegged and covered in goo? (I'm a heavy sweater. What of it?)

I fell. A lot. Having not roller skated since Clinton's second term, I made a fool of myself while the Rollers showed me how it's done. They executed spins, sped around that track like demons from hell and stopped on dimes.

I kept falling.

I was like .0009 seconds away from saying eff this and going to grab a beer. My pride was hurt. That kind of feeling can make you go running in the other direction when faced with legitimate adversity, not to mention something trivial like not remembering how to skate.

To their credit, the team couldn't have been nicer and more supportive. Specifically Busty Brabender (you have no idea how happy it makes me to type that name) and Dinah Party.

One led me around the track like we were doing a couples' skate in the '70s while I regained my composure, and the other hit me with the Rollers' advice for up-and-coming skaters:

"Ernest, you didn't fail at anything today. You had some challenges, and if each girl quit after she thought she failed, there would never be anything to shoot for in the sport! We always use the word 'challenge' versus failure because a failure implies an end point whereas a challenge allows you to constantly strive to improve in order to reach a goal."

It's a damn fine quote and mission statement. Go check out the Windy City Rollers as soon as possible, and remember not to let your pride be your downfall. You know, especially if you're on skates.

Ernest Wilkins is Chicago's wingman.


The Women's Flat Track Derby Association has a long list of skills skaters must master before they can compete for a team like the Windy City Rollers. Ernest Wilkins tried these four:

>> Backwards skating. "I couldn't skate."

>> Lap time. "Ditto."

>> Crossovers. "Once I could skate, these were easy."

>> Whips. "Imagine a rubber band that snaps you forward with crazy speed. Now, imagine that rubber band is a person.



What: The Windy City Rollers invite three roller derby teams from across the country to compete in round-robin competition.

When: Competition starts at noon Saturday and Sunday; doors open at 11 a.m. both days.

Where: UIC Pavilion, 525 S. Racine Ave.

Cost: $30-$45; tickets available at


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