Rolling with it

10 years ago by in Uncategorized Tagged:

Photo by Melissa Cannarozzi
The D.C. Rollergirls warm up for their May 24 Expo Bout, a 2007 season sneak-peek game.

The D.C. Rollergirls are coming to a track near you

by ERIN DONAGHUE

The 120 roller skates attached to 60 female roller skaters are looping around the basketball court at the Annandale JCC. The swooshing wheels meld together into a low, menacing rumble. If the Hells Angels wore pink, rode skates instead of cycles, and drove around in circles all day, it might feel a little bit like this. But the D.C. Rollergirls are just getting warmed up.

Don’t expect the D.C. Rollergirls to introduce themselves to you by their real names. The all-female league of competitive roller skaters deck themselves out in black and white striped legwarmers, pink and blue t-shirts, and a bit of mystery. You might be able to catch a glimpse of their game alias markered on strips of masking tape across their helmets as they whiz by. And when they’re “in the track,” or in the game, this is the only name that matters.

Hello Kittastrophe has been around the track a few times already. Tonight, she’s a jammer — she attempts to shove her way through the “pack” of three tightly knit skaters in order to score points for her team. She skates up to me and smartly snaps to a stop, shows off an impressive bruise on her upper right leg. “It’s kind of like a rug burn,” she says as she describes falling and sliding across a wooden court floor.

Kittastrophe is one of the three co-founders of the D.C . Rollergirls. All three were looking to join a competitive skating league in D.C. and, when they didn’t find one, founded their own in January 2006. Hello Kittastrophe is no stranger to competition — she’s been a competitive figure skater for five years. “I really don’t mind,” she says of the monster bruise that’s rapidly beginning to swell. She says she can sit and nurse her wounds tomorrow at her desk job on Capitol Hill.

By day, they design Web sites and underwrite mortgage claims. But come 8:30 on practice nights, these women are strapping on brightly colored roller skates and pushing, shoving and catapulting each other around the track. Played at high speeds on a hardwood floor, with a lot of room for full-body (and full-floor) contact, Roller Derby is considered one of the most dangerous competitive sports. In real live, these women don’t exude a tough-girl attitude, or compete with each other – inside the track, however, all bets are off.

Dayglo Divine is a Rollergirl whose platinum spiky hair is as florescent as her name. Divine describes herself as a “recovering DJ” who spends the four nights a week she used to devote to clubbing, calling shots as a Roller Derby referee. She says her friends “just don’t get” her new pastime. “They’re not really all about getting fit,” she smirks. “Although some of them have nice right biceps from lifting their beer glasses all the time.”

Divine commutes from Baltimore, where she works as a Web developer at Johns Hopkins, four times weekly for practice. “I like the idea of sanctioned aggression,” she says. Tonight, Divine helps to set up the track, determines the start and end of a game, and calls penalties. She says she’d rather ref than roll because she feels a little weird about letting her aggressions loose on women — a pastime she says she usually reserves for men.


Photo by Melissa Cannarozzi
The D.C. Rollergirls run drills before a practice game.

The referee whistle signals the beginning of the game. As the derby gets rolling around the track, the players are not spread evenly across the floor like at a friendly suburban roller rink. Instead, the women are smushed together into a kind of mosh pit on wheels. What appears to be mass pandemonium is actually quite simple: the “jammer” from team number one attempts to break through a kind of human wall created by team number two. The rest of the skaters either help their jammer through or block the jammer from the opposing team. The trademark Derby aggression is what results when both teams throw full force into the game — and it can result in a lot of bodies hitting the deck.

Tall, lanky and short of breath, Fili*bust*her glides over to me after a turn in the track. True to her name, she is a D.C. native who likes to talk — a lot. “I’m like a running stream of commentary,” she says. She joined the Rollergirls in order to let off some steam, pent up, she says, from her high-stress day job as a mortgage underwriter. “I basically decide whether or not people get a house, and I have to defend that decision,” she says. “A lot of us have a lot of aggression we need to get out.” Fili*bust*her continues to skate even after a painful case of endometriosis caused her to undergo a tubal ligation. She considers it a ‘minor injury’ compared to what some of the other women skate through. She keeps coming back for the adrenaline rush and the added benefit of a close-knit group of gal pals. “It’s like seamonkeys,” she says. “Instant friends.”

The D.C. Rollergirls could show up a male Derby team any day. But why would they want to? They might have an unusual way of showing it, but the Rollergirls share a bond that is nicely complemented by a little “friendly” aggression. Sure, it’s not for the faint of heart. But the Rollergirls have forged a unique community that walks the line between competition and comradery — and it shows.

The D.C. Rollergirls first season kicks off with the Inaugural Brawl Saturday, April 21 at 5pm at the Dulles SportsPlex. Tickets are $12.

The American University School of Communication Graduate Program in Journalism works to prepare students for the realities of today's news and information space and the challenges of tomorrow. Find out more by visiting us online at soc.american.edu

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