Non-Actuarial Pursuits of Casualty Actuaries
The Road Not Taken...For Health Reasonsby Brian Haney
I got a phone call the other day from an actuary who once pursued a career track that is what we in the insurance business like to call "rare." This Fellow (and fellow) was on the track for being a professional roller derby player. That's right-roller derby.
For those of you who don't remember, and for those of you who are too young to know about it, roller derby is a sport that used to be shown on Saturday mornings after the Ernest Angeley faith-healing televangelism show and before pro wrestling. Roller derby is played on a banked track by two opposing teams of people on roller skates (for the younger actuary-folk, roller skates are how we old-timers eluded dinosaurs before the invention of roller blades or bronze).
Points are scored when members of one team lap members of the other team-referred to in derby-lingo as "jamming." Roller derby is full con-tact, as we Saturday morning devotees recall. Clobbering one's opponents is not only legal, but highly encouraged. In the roller-jargon, this is referred to as "blocking." In most courts, it's battery. It makes not only jamming a real challenge, but breathing and other low-level bodily functions as well.
Our Fellow actually trained in San Francisco, the roller derby capital of the world. The basic course, given at the Bay Bomber Roller Derby Training Center, was offered by the people who owned an entire roller derby league (one of only two then in existence), including all the teams in that league. It was THE official place to learn the sport. If one became proficient enough in the basic-course fundamentals, one proceeded to the advanced course to learn blocking. From there, players could join teams in the professional leagues if they could get a contract.
It was not as easy as it may sound. Our Fellow, who made it to the advanced course, says that blocking people is incredibly difficult, not because it is hard to hit people, but because it is hard to hit people and remain upright. Also, roller skating on a banked track is tough, and roller skates don't have brakes. To stop, a skater must drag one skate perpendicular to the other, as is done in roller blading (unless you're me, in which case the preferred method is to run into an immovable object).
Here are some interesting roller derby facts that I learned from our Fellow:
- Roller derby is definitely real. The competitors are trying to win and some of the players really get injured. There is some scripting, and there are "good guy" and "bad guy" teams like in Harlem Globetrotters' games.
- At least four movies have featured roller derby: Fireball, with Mickey Rooney; Kansas City Bomber, starring Raquel Welch; Roller Ball, in which James Caan plays a game very similar to roller derby; and Derby, a documentary.
- At the height of its popularity in the 70s, roller derby attracted more spectators in the San Francisco Bay area than any other sport except baseball.
- Roller derby players were paid as much as $30,000 a year; the pay was similar to that of minor league baseball players.
Our Fellow, of course, eventually gave up his dreams of roller derby stardom and instead pursued an actuarial career (and enjoyed substantially less risk of personal injury).
If you want to know more about roller derby, you should ask the CAS's erstwhile roller derby hopeful, Jerry Tuttle, yourself. But if he invites you to go skating, wear your helmet and stay out of his way!