On any given Thursday, you can hear the sound of their skates glide across the smooth, waxed floors. The soft thud as the skate hits the wood, followed by the whir of the wheels and bearings spinning. Then the clap of gear hitting gear, the crack of one helmet colliding with another and the slap of bare skin as a skater goes down. Sometimes, you can almost hear the bruises forming.
Erase what you think you know about roller derby. Forget Ellen Page and the movie Whip It (except the feminist bad-ass part), forget the costumes and the short skirts—keep the tattoos and add uniforms. Think hockey, mixed with speed skating and some Xena the Warrior Princess thrown in for good measure.
Allow me to cordially re-introduce you to the Rage City Rollergirls and the select few skaters who make up the elite Rage City All Stars, as they prepare for their season-opener bout.
Rollergirls across the country have struggled to be taken seriously by the public. With its tongue-in-cheek pseudonyms for participants and game parameters, players say people think of roller derby as a type of burlesque-on-wheels rather than the knock-down, all-out physical sport that it is.
“People still call it a show. ‘Oh when is your next show?’ they ask, and I say, you mean our game?” All Stars co-captain JENetically EVIL said.
Born Jennifer Miller, her team shortens her derby name to just one word—EVIL.
“It started as a punk rock sport and evolved into this huge phenomenon,” EVIL said. “In the meantime, we turned into athletes.”
Athlete is a defining word for many of the Rage City Rollergirls, who practice four times a week and cross-train the other three.
For EVIL, the word athlete carries more weight. Several seasons ago, she was benched to recover from knee surgery and without the adrenaline rush of derby she went through a period of depression. While sitting on the sidelines, she remembered all the time she put in at the gym and physical therapy working to regain her strength. The word ATHLETE is now displayed on her forearm to remind her who she is—with or without her skates.
EVIL has been with the All Star team since its inception and she says, like roller derby as a whole, the team and league have come a long way from what it was five to seven years ago.
The All Stars represent Alaska on the national stage as the only team from the 49th state in the rankings within the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), the international governing body for the sport. They ended last season with a pivotal win over Virginia’s Mother State Roller Derby and narrowly missed an invitation to the WFTDA Division II national playoffs.
This year, they are bloodthirsty.
Co-captain Deuce Gunner, aka Carly Boyce, is arguably the best derby player in the state. Deuce is known to her teammates as the strategist. Skaters claim she has a talent to see things on the track before they happen. Maybe it’s precognition, but Deuce credits it to hundreds of hours of study.
About five years ago, she watched the roller derby national finals on TV and from then she couldn’t stop.
“I was watching anything I could, figuring out what they were doing so that we could do it, too,” she said.
Deuce’s goal for the team is simple: make it to the Division II tournament. The path to nationals will be easier if the All Stars can secure a win this weekend over the San Fernando Valley Like OMGs, a team they’ve never faced and one Deuce hasn’t been able to study.
“We will try to play our game. Offense when we need to, overpowering their defense,” she said.
Both All Star captains said they heard the Like OMGs have a fast jammer—the skater who scores points during the game — and they are right. Her name is Twiggy Bones. Weighing in at 90 pounds, she is a force to be reckoned with, her teammate Killo Kitty said, squeezing through blockers with unbelievable ease.
Jersey number 187, Killo Kitty is the alter ego of Stacie Sniderman. She has played for San Fernando Valley Roller Derby almost eight years and said this year and next are building years for her team.
“We gained a couple players and I’m confident we’ll do better than what our stats show for last year. We are moving towards a stronger team,” she said.
Part of what makes the California team such a formidable opponent for the All Stars is the experience they gain from having other WFTDA teams nearby to play. With seven ranked teams in close proximity to their home turf, Killo Kitty said roller derby is fully established as a hard-hitting sport in their area.
“There is so much awesome derby around. Angel City is a top-10 ranked team. People see the athleticism that comes through,” she said.
Don’t count the All Stars out just yet. Newcomer Bat Ma’am has quickly made a name for herself in the year and a half she has pushed, shoved and blocked for the Rage City Rollergirls’ top squad. Batty is the nom de guerre for Stacie Kinney-Tadlock, a born and raised Alaskan hailing from Eagle River, who credits her success to hard work more than natural talent.
“I was that girl hanging onto the wall when I first started,” she said. “I’m a perfectionist. I just want to be good and it means a lot to me to be on this team.”
The team’s first WFTDA bout will be a crucial battle for the All Stars in their pursuit of the Division II tournament. If they win at home versus the Like OMGs, it will boost their ranking and lay the first stepping stone in a long journey to the top. To reign victorious they will have to hit, shove, block and out skate their opponents in a game that will be more about power than speed.
They might bruise and they might bleed, after all, this is roller derby.