Shit Happens, or Why I Love Derby Lite

As someone who’s spent the better part of a decade trying to reconcile herself to a chronic disease, I know all too well you can be miserable, or you can accept, adapt, and move on.  Shit happens. Whether good or bad, it’s life. And life is what you make it.

Four years ago I told the world: I want to be a roller girl. I declared my intent, as well as my fear, and I owned it. Although some initially scoffed, most readers said GO FOR IT!  Last fall, I finally strapped 8 wheels to my feet and rolled out of my comfort zone.

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Interview with a Roller Girl

This inaugural post of 2011 is dedicated to everyone who loves Flat Track Roller Derby.  As a woman who longs to don skates, hot pants and an alter ego, I wanted to do an interview with someone who knows the ins & outs of the sport.  Longtime friend, Kim – aka Supersonik! – a REAL LIFE ROLLER GIRL (!!) has graciously agreed to spill her derby beans via this blog.  If you’re curious about roller derby, have wondered what it’s like to be a roller girl, or think you have what it takes to kick ass and be kicked in return, then Friend, this one’s for YOU.

Kim – I mean, Supersonik!  Thanks so much for being a part of The Daily Dish.  Before we get started, first things first.  What team do you play for?  What’s your name & number and do they have any significance?

Photo Credit: Lucas Saugen Photography 2008

I am Supersonik! and I play on the Atomic Bombshells, one of the 4 home teams of the Minnesota RollerGirls. My number is 7 of 9, which comes from the Star Trek Voyager character.  My name Supersonik! was part of an inside joke around the song Elektronik Supersonik by Zlad, a fake rock star from a fake former Eastern Bloc country. Some people get excited thinking that I got my name from the JJ Fad song “Supersonic” and start singing it to me.  In reality, I’m just a big sci-fi dork.  Growing up during the 80s, with my formative years during the Cold War, the Zlad song was extra funny.

What’s your position? Can you briefly describe what that entails?

At home, I play the blocker position. Basically my job is to keep the other team’s
jammer (the person who scores the points for the team) from getting through the pack while clearing a path for our own jammer.  This is where you see a lot of the big hits. When I’ve played on other pick-up type games (i.e. RollerCon) where derby players come from all over the world and theme teams galore spring up, I play all positions.  For instance, I’ve played the pivot (who often sets the pace of the pack and acts as the last line of defense) or the jammer.  These pick-up games have themes, like Star Trek vs Star Wars, Vegetarians vs Meat Eaters (I think we were officially called Lentilly Deranged vs. Meat Curtains), cats vs dogs, diapers vs depends (under 30/ over 30), things like that.  These are just-for-fun games that don’t count for anything.  Last summer, I even played in a clockwise bout!  That was a lot of fun because we always play counterclockwise.

How long have you been involved with roller derby?  How did you get started?  Did you know the rules when you started or did you learn by doing?

I started the second season of our league. That was in 2005.  I’d won tickets to
the first MNRG bout and had remembered watching roller derby on TV when I was a kid, but the event I was at had these girls on roller skates with these
awesome names on their shirts, and I was like, Wow, this seems really cool.  It was NOTHING like what I saw on TV growing up.  For one thing, they were skating on a flat track and not a banked track like in the old days.  And the uniforms were all unique, there was awesome music; it was just a bit mind blowing!  I’d always hated the idea of team sports, partly because the uniforms were so awful.  In roller derby there were women of all shapes and sizes and skating level.  I knew I would be back.  I ran into a friend [at that first bout] and we decided to go roller skating (cuz heck, we both grew up on roller skates) and then came to future bouts.  When we heard they were having tryouts, we both went and made it; it was the hardest 4 hours I have ever been through.

Photo Credit: Peter Worth Dec 2010

I really had no idea what was going on on the track when I first started watching, I just knew that I wanted to be involved. When I started there were only about 5
pages of rules. Leagues around the country (there were only about 10 at the
time) were making it up as they went along. The rules have since been
standardized, as the sport has grown exponentially and playing inter-league games with different rule sets did not really work out too well.  There are over 40
pages of rules now!  And yes, we are tested on them.  If you are interested in learning more about the rules, this is the place to go.  The rules definitely needed to change to ensure the game was safe for all players, with the sorts of scenarios coming up and increased skill level of the skaters.

How much time do you spend practicing? Have you always been a great skater?

We have practice generally 3 times a week, 2 hours at a time.  All-stars have extra
time.  I grew up on ice skates and roller skates so I was okay with making the
transition.

What’s the worst injury you’ve sustained during play?

A few weeks into derby, we learned to do shoulder hits and then were sent out
to play Queen of the Rink [basically a derby version of Last Man Standing, with one remaining player skating in bounds.]  I got hit by a vet skater and landed on my shoulder. The result was a shoulder impingement. I didn’t get it treated right away and it still flares up a bit to this day. In subsequent years we have figured out ways to make it safer for new skaters.  Like I said earlier, in the beginning we were just making things up as we went along, because the re-emergence of the sport was so new.  Today our rookies go through a summer of boot camp to build up skills before they get to be put on a home team. This has been a wonderful way for them to bond and build up the confidence and skills before they get drafted.

Photo Credit: Peter Worth Nov 2010

What’s the best thing about playing roller derby?

I don’t know if I can say just one thing. It’s been awesome for me to learn to
play a team sport, get regular exercise, and meet really fabulous women.  We have a ton of awesome volunteers who keep us running smoothly and fans who support us.  I love the kids who are so excited to be at the bouts.  We now have co-ed junior derby in the twin cities for youngsters interested in becoming future players. It melts my heart when they want my autograph.  It’s strange to have these kids look up to us; I mean I get it, but I never thought I would be in that position.  Playing has also given me the opportunity to develop leadership skills, as our organization is owned and run by the skaters, for the skaters.

What’s the worst thing (if any) about playing roller derby?

I wish we had more public bouts. 🙂

How does your team travel? Are you sponsored? Do you get paid for playing or is it strictly volunteer?

We have a travel team called the All-Stars. They are comprised of skaters from
all 4 home teams. They are the ones that do the inter-league travel and
tournaments that count towards our rankings. This year though, our home teams have had opportunities to travel in the region to play other teams. It’s always a lot of fun to play new and unfamiliar people.  We are very fortunate to have a lot of support with awesome sponsors like PBR.  But we are unpaid athletes. We donate proceeds to charity.

How would you describe yourself? Age? Occupation? What else do you enjoy outside the arena?

I’m 38 and have historically earned my income in the non-profit/government/health care/education sectors. Currently I’m back in school through a great program made to retrain folks in “green” careers.  I’m now involved with starting a Transition Town in my neighborhood, something that’s been really exciting for me.  I tend to have a lot of interests that are all over the board. Off the bat, I can say I’m crazy about cats, organic gardening, low-impact living, science fiction, antiques and traveling. I also like to play tennis and ride my bike, and I want to learn how to sew.

So there you have it, folks.  Roller derby – one of the most empowering sports for women EVER, is growing exponentially and is only getting better.  A sport played by women, with teams owned by the players themselves, who – rather than capitalize on the proceeds, donate it all to charity.  Could it get any better??  My sincere thanks to Supersonik! for allowing me to do this interview, and to both Lucas Saugen & Peter Worth for kindly allowing me to reprint their photographs.

Think you’ve got what it takes?
Watch Supersonik! in MNRG’s 2009 Season Trailer: Bad Mother Rollers.

I want to be a Roller Girl.

For years I have harbored a secret desire to do something that both thrills & terrifies me to the core.  And today I am finally telling the world.

I want to be a Roller Girl.

rollergirls

You may not be familiar with Flat Track Roller Derby.  To be honest, I’m a newbie myself.  But when I first heard about it, several years ago in Philadelphia, I was blown away.  Roller Derby is simply the coolest, most empowering sport for women EVER.  I wanted to try out for the Philly Roller Girls then and there, but.. But…  I didn’t know enough about it.  I’d never even been to a game!  At the time, my kids were small, and to top it off – I have Meniere’s Disease.  B/c of Meniere’s I can’t do all sorts of things.  Eat salt, Fly, listen to an iPod, have dental work, the list goes on.  Can you imagine what ROLLER DERBY COULD DO TO ME??!!  In short: I was afraid.  Very afraid.  Of getting hurt, of getting vertigo, of putting myself OUT THERE.  And so *Roller Girl* got shelved.  Until last week.  When I read the Philly Liberty Belles were coming to town.  Saturday night, instead of sitting on the couch watching a movie, I took Maddie to the Portland Expo for our very first Roller Derby.

rollergirls1

WOOT!!

If you are new to this sport, like me, then you may have questions.  Important questions.  Like The Rules.  I’ll be honest.  I don’t know them.  But having watched one bout, here’s what I’ve learned.  The bout (or game) is divided into two 30-minute periods, separated by a 20-minute intermission.  The basic gist – and forgive me if I am wrong – 5 skaters from each team are on a circuit track.  Eight women (4 from each team) form a big heap up front.

thepack

The remaining 2 girls (one from each team) start behind on a different line.  They are the Jammers.  They score points.

jammers

The whistle blows.  The pack takes off skating and the jammers follow.  The women up front try to block the opposing team’s jammer from breaking through the pack.  The jammers each try to break past the pack to get out in front.  The best jammers act as both offense (trying to get out in front), as well as defense (simultaneously blocking their opponent jammer).  Whichever jammer gets in front of the pack first is pointed out as LEAD JAMMER by a whistle toot and a pointing referee.  That lead jammer now skates round the track to score points.  The rest of her team tries to keep the other jammer back.

thejam

Players can get penalties for doing bad stuff.  I am not sure exactly what.  But it seemed to involve pain. Or maybe just poking.. It’s hard to tell.

pain

When a player is bad they get sent to the penalty box for a period of time.

penaltybox

Those three people on the stage (behind the penalty box) were the MCs.  They were great.  Providing running commentary and helpful tidbits of information all bout long.  I particularly liked the way they kept encouraging the crowd to root for both teams and give lots of love to all the players.  No nasty bloodlust here!  Also fun was the interaction between MCs and the “Beer Garden” crowd.  HOW’S EVERYONE IN THE BEER GARDEN? they would ask — to a ROARING response.  I LOVE ROLLER DERBY!

Unlike many other sports (I am talking to YOU, golf) Roller Derby is ACTION PACKED and incredibly entertaining to watch.  The bout literally flew by!

One thing that struck me about the sport is how incredibly supportive all of the women are toward each other – opponents included.  Before and after the game, the teams lined up to slap hands.

rollergirls3

And at the end of the bout, the teams huddled to select an MVP from the opposing team.

thehuddle

Each MVP was announced and then given the opportunity to speak to the crowd; both heaped praise on the opposing team.  It was lovely.  A sport that not only empowers women to be strong and fierce, but celebrates each others talents – WELL.  Count me in.

After the bout we stayed to meet many of the Liberty Belles.  Maddie had them sign her program.

autographs

Everyone was super nice, and more than one player encouraged me to try out.  When I asked BUT Won’t I get the crap kicked out of me?? I was told Of COURSE! EVERYONE DOES.

HOW CAN I RESIST?!

gracelesskelly

Even the refs look GREAT!

WANNA KNOW MORE?? ME TOO.

Wikipedia’s entry on Roller Derby.