It’s strategy, brute force and laser focus. And it’s all women.
On the first whistle, the pent- up, helmeted pack of eight blockers—four from each team— take off on quad -wheeled skates around the flat, oval track. Three seconds later, a second whistle blows and two jammers—the scorer for each team—dash off their line set 10 feet back. When they reach the pack, the jammers start twisting, scrambling, and leaping their way through the roiling, shoving mass of rolling blockers. For every member of the opposing team a jammer passes, they score a point.
Within two minutes, it’s over. That’s a jam.
“They’re like plays in football,” says Anna Krajcik, aka Grace Killy, with the Brewcity Bruisers from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. These bursts of frenzy continue over two 30-minute periods to make up a game—or bout—of roller derby.
“It’s a feeling of intense focus because so much is going on out there,” says Nicole Armendariz, aka VerucAssault, a blocker with the Bruisers. “I have to dial in that focus and intensity right off the whistle. It’s very much like you explode and calm down and explode again.” Those moments of calm between jams last 30 seconds. By then, the skaters have scuttled back behind their starting lines and the whistle blows again.
This fast-growing, full-contact sport with its layers of physicality and mental fortitude seems to embrace what many women unconsciously seek these days. “You just feel strong,” says Alex France, aka Franny Panties, a blocker with the Rage City Rollergirls in Anchorage, Alaska. “We work hard. We put in literal blood sometimes. And when you get that one clean hit and knock that jammer off the track, you feel like nothing can stop you.”
Like any good sport, many roller derby bouts include a halftime show. the Gotham girls in NYC have the Jeerleaders. inst. louis, they have the fearleaders, with a goth vibe. for the Brewcity Bruisers, it’s the Beerleaders (left). as diverse in shape and age as the team they cheer for, and every bit as devoted, the Beerleaders create and perform a choreographed dance and cheer routine at every halftime to a mash-up of songs set to a theme, from artists like Michael Jackson or Queen.
NOT YOUR GRANDMA’S DERBY
Today’s roller derby has come a long way from days of yore on late night TV. “Most people think we wear fishnets and punch people,” says Franny, a visual designer. “There’s still moments of that quirkiness with people in costumes or fishnets, but we’re real athletes, and we work our butts off to develop our skills.”
It’s not unusual for team members to spend eight hours a week on skates in practice and scrimmages, plus cross-train on their own time. Game days are another six hours. “It’s usually 10 to 20 hours a week on derby for me,” Franny says, who also serves on the Bruiser’s board of directors. “It’s like having an additional job.” “A job that you love and don’t get paid for,” adds her teammate Angela Ramirez, aka Sarah Impale’em.
ROUND AND ROUND
Reinvented in 2005 by a group of women into the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), the sport has now spread across the globe with 470 independent leagues run by the skaters, all volunteer, often nonprofit, and with rules determined by the skaters and participants, including officials, through the federation. As the name implies, the sport now gets played on flat, not banked, tracks. “Because it’s cheaper and you can play anywhere,” says Impale’em.
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