Wonder Women: Women of the Roller Derby

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HARD-HITTING AND GIVING BEST DESCRIBES THE LADIES OF NOVA ROLLER DERBY. THESE GIRLS ON WHEELS (AND DOLLS OF THE RINK!) NOT ONLY PLAY TOUGH BUT COLLECT FOR CHARITY, TOO.

It’s 1977 and I’m lying on the floor watching TV, still in my PJs. Wonder Woman isn’t on, so I’m turning the dial, looking for something else. I come across roller derby and my curiosity is piqued. Do Mom and Dad know I’m watching this?

This is SO much cooler than Wonder Woman. Flash forward many years and I find myself at the Michael & Son Sportsplex on a busy Saturday attending my first roller derby bout. I’m sure roller derby has changed since the 70s, but it’s one of those moments when I have no idea what to expect. When I phoned Lady Bunz of NOVA Roller Derby to arrange an interview, she told me to bring a new pair of pajamas, as they were collecting for charity.
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Around the arena, I see skaters stretching and warming up. Some are chatting, while others are quietly wearing their game face. Across the hallway on the indoor soccer field, I see teenage players peering across at the roller derby arena, as curious as I am.

The bout begins, and I’m amazed by the sheer speed and energy. This is flat-track roller derby: no banked track, no railing, and no staged theatricals. Rules are enforced by real referees. It took me a moment to understand the game, but a team member skates around the audience offering to help newbies like me.

In the audience, there are a variety of spectators: young, old, even babies. I never pictured roller derby being family friendly, but the atmosphere is fun, from the humorous announcer to the live band and the fast action on the rink. I do notice a few restricted areas that don’t allow kids, because skaters could actually crash into them.
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So what hasn’t changed about roller derby? The fishnets, makeup, and creative derby names are still the same, as is the physical, full-body contact. NOVA Roller Derby is a volunteer organization that started in 2011 and is comprised of three home teams and two travel teams. The group’s motto is “Skate Hard. Give Back,” and they truly mean it. At each bout they collect for a different charity, and they’ve done this from the beginning. Players and fans contribute pet food, clothing, school supplies, and gift cards for chosen charities at each bout.

Skaters come from a variety of backgrounds, including business owners, nurses, mothers,  paralegals, and human resource managers. They are mostly women, but men are starting to join, too. Players range in age from their twenties to their fifties. Some joined to get in shape; others came to watch and were hooked.
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In order to join, would-be skaters must attend an essential skills class that teaches them everything they need to know about skating and competing safely. With the physical nature of the sport, safety is priority. After completion, players try out for one of NOVA’s three home teams, or for one of the more competitive travel teams. Once a player is placed, she still must fulfill volunteer requirements before she can compete.

What makes a good player? One, who goes by the name Bacon Lettuce Torture, tells me that you have to be open to falling. It’s something I never considered, really, but watching the action, I quickly understand what she means. She and Rae Veness say that it’s like any other sport, you must be coachable and have a good attitude. The league seems very encouraging to new players trying out roller derby. Hootenannie, another player, explains, “You get the simultaneous acceptance as you are and the encouragement to be the best you can be.”
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What most players say is that… it’s not what you think. But they all take away something different from the game. Jackson Villain likes the community aspect of the sport, Manic Panic says it’s confidence building, and Lady Bunz likes how it helped her get into shape. I stopped Hot Wings to ask her what she’s gotten from the game. Without hesitating she says, “Roller derby has helped me realize my power. When I started, I was fearful of hitting and being hit. Learning how to execute and withstand both has given me an immense sense of power.” Yep. Definitely cooler than Wonder Woman.

 

 PHOTOGRAPHY BY SHELLEY MILLER

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