Emily Sepik knew she was about to bottom out with her drinking habit and she knew that she needed an outlet, but she had absolutely no idea what that might be. By chance, she found herself at a Roller Derby bout. She remembers this day well because it changed her life.
“I saw the team skate out and immediately knew I was going to be a roller girl,” Sepik tells me. Within weeks, she began juggling AA meetings and team practices. However, she was no natural on skates, “I worked my butt off and never got great or anything, but it was one of the best choices I’ve made.”
Roller Derby is notoriously rough. The injury rate is through the roof, and sometimes they can be severe. At first, this didn’t deter Sepik a bit. “In the beginning I didn’t care. I felt reckless and like any injury was a sort of ‘bad ass’ badge…but as time went on, I began to grow fearful. And fear makes you hesitate.” Add to this that Sepik was 30-years-old when she started Roller Derby and you can see that she had an uphill struggle. “By the time I had some years under my belt, I could really feel it in my body. My knees and back hurt constantly. But it was worth it.”
Sepik was gaining much more than the ability to skate. Through derby she found a sense of identity, confidence, and body acceptance she’d never had before. She was also managing to stay sober even though it meant skipping some of the derby social life. “I suddenly didn’t care as much about being skinny and drinking, but instead wanted muscle and health.”
In 2014, at the playoffs in Sacramento, Sepik—who’s derby name was She Wrex—suffered a knock to the head that left her with a serious concussion. She didn’t know it at the time, but that would be her last bout. For the next nine months, she suffered severe headaches and depression. Forcing her to make the difficult decision to retire from derby.
Around the same time, Sepik attended her niece’s birthday party at a roller skating rink. As soon as she was back on skates, she realized just how happy and empowered it made her feel. Sepik reached out to an old friend who she had seen skate bowls. She asked for a lesson and hasn’t stopped since. These days she can be found hard at practice on any ramp she can get to, whether it’s braving legions of teenage boys at a skate park or a friend’s back yard ramp where she spent most of her summer. Sepik has even begun to nurture a local chapter of Chicks in Bowls, an organization that encourages those from all walks of life to grab some skates and challenge their own limits.
It has been a long road, and hardly an easy one. Sepik tells me that these days, with the competitive atmosphere of derby behind her, she finally skates just for fun. She is still sober and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.