Brace for Impact is a story of roller derby, injuries, queer identity and more in St. Louis | Art Stories and Interviews | St. Louis | St. Louis News and Events
With roller derby, getting hurt is not an if. It’s a moment.
That moment came for Gabe Montesanti, 28, on a Sunday morning in April 2017. There had been a deluge the night before and overturned bins littered the flooded streets as she headed for practice. Because there were holes in the roof, the floor of the arena was wet and slippery from yesterday’s rain.
But that’s not why Montesanti fell.
“I fell doing something I had done a million times, which was going from backward skating to forward skating,” she says. “My wheels hooked up and I fell with all my body weight on top of my left leg. I heard it shatter, like I heard it shatter inside my body.
She knew immediately she was broken, but – brought up on the tough stuff and denying her own pain – she insisted on being rushed to hospital in the back of her own car by one of her teammates and didn’t. received morphine only hours later. She says his wife, Kelly Bresnahan, describes the sounds Montesanti makes without medication as “barbaric and enraged”.
The fall had “just about shattered” the leg: Both bones snapped and Montesanti’s tibia suffered a six-inch spiral fracture. She temporarily lost sensation in her leg and for a moment was unsure whether she could walk normally again.
Montesanti dives into this pain, if she were to return to the arena and all things roller derby in her memoir, Hang in there for impact, which The Dial Press, an imprint of Random House, publishes on Tuesday. She will officially launch the book to the world on Thursday, May 26 at 7 p.m. .ZACK Performing Arts Theater (3224 Locust Street, St. Louis; 3 14-533-0367), in an event presented by Left Bank Books. The launch is free
Hang in there for impact It’s not just about playing for the famous St. Louis Arch Rival Roller Derby team. In it, Montesanti weaves in her memories of growing up in a conservative Catholic family in the rural Michigan town of Howell, as well as swimming competitively and coming into her queer identity in the Midwest.
“It was difficult growing up where I grew up, and it was a very closed thing,” she says. “I graduated with 650 students, and none of them came out, including me.”
Being in a conservative religious environment entrenched “repressed homophobia and this resistance to claiming any label” in Montesanti. At 18, she began dating women while a student at Kalamazoo College, telling herself it was a phase. But being in a liberal environment and reading Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel memoir fun house involved the slow process of accepting herself and her queer identity.
During this time, she realized that the little essays and stories she had written throughout her life could be her future. A class taught by Diane Seuss (who won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry this year) made Montesanti realize that she wanted to keep writing seriously.
But the derby – unlike questions of identity and career – was not long in coming.
Montesanti remembers being approached by a beautiful, openly queer woman at a cafe in Bowling Green, Ohio.
“She just said, ‘You look like a real threat on the roller derby track’ and I said, ‘What are you talking about? recalls Montesanti. “I felt really seen.”
The first day she had the internet after moving to attend the MFA creative writing program at Washington University, Montesanti researched the St. Louis roller derby teams. In September 2016, she started “Fresh Meat”, the three-month recruiting class for Arch Rivals.
When she started, Montesanti was terrible. But it didn’t take her long to become obsessed. Soon she was skating every day, even in her apartment.
Passing the skills test the following January and getting drafted was amazing.
“I think what makes roller derby so different from any other sport I’ve played is that there’s no real ideal body type for skating,” says Montesanti. “The first thing they said to me in St. Louis on the roller derby track was, ‘You’re a beef. We need beefcakes on our team.'”
“It was wonderful to be accepted and needed in the body I currently occupy,” she continues. “So I was completely in love with the sport and all the queer people that are on a team.”
Going to school and playing the derby turned out to be a tough balancing act. But Montesanti justified it by making it the subject of his thesis. Things built from there.
In 2018, she found an agent, Markus Hoffmann. In 2019, an excerpt won a non-fiction competition from the St. Louis-based literary magazine Boulevard (disclosure, a journal that this journalist edits) and this publication was recognized as a notable mention in the anthology Best American Essays. In May 2020, Montesanti received a 17-page letter, then a phone call, from Dial Press editor Katy Nishimoto detailing how they would revise the manuscript.
Montesanti and Nishimoto spent the next year working on the book, and then another preparing for its publication. Now it’s about to go out into the world.
“I’m terrified,” Montesanti said. “I’m really delighted. I have never experienced this level of excitement in my life.
Attend the launch event of Hang in there for impact Thursday, May 26 at 7 p.m. at the .ZACK Performing Arts Theater.
Email the author at [email protected]