I’m no Severin Von Kusiemski, but there is a strange primeval pleasure found in the company of a woman who is capable of beating my ass to a pulp. Last week I was watching tryouts for the Salt City Shakers—The Salt City Derby Girls All-Star team—and I heard a story about an unidentified Shaker, nearly banned from the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association for hauling off and punching some high-falutin harpy from Los Angeles square in the face. Valkyries on wheels! Sleeve-tattooed Vixens! Be still my heart!
Okay, so I’m exaggerating a little. Still, there’s a lot of entertainment surrounding this sport. In fact, compared to the snooze-fest that is a baseball game or golf, roller derby can deceptively appear as though it is a Russ Meyers film shown two minutes at a time. In the early 70s, televised roller derby matches were comparable to professional wrestling—choreographed camp with some collateral bruising. However, since the sport’s revival in the early 2000s, roller derby has been slowly but surely gaining some overdue respect as a legitimate sport. A Junction City Roller Doll, known to me only as Stryker, defends the game rather vigorously. “This is an actual sport, and we are actual athletes. We train twice a week. We’re very competitive.” She recites a litany of injuries, incurred or witnessed, which is almost too gruesome for our readers. Rage N Red, of the Junction City Roller Dolls, dislocated her kneecap all the way to the other side of her leg. Seventy years ago, such an injury would have consigned her to a low-grade carnival freak show. “Any play can be your last,” Striker says.
Smack and Deck Her, a pivot who captains the Death Dealers of the Salt City Derby Girls league, also defends roller derby’s legitimacy, “A lot of people think it’s still the theatrical stuff from the seventies—throwing people over the rails or whatever—but we’re on skates a good eight hours a week, training. It truly is a sport.”
Derby takes place on a circuit track . Each team sends five players out to skate—three blockers, one pivot and one jammer. Blockers and pivots begin making their way around the track, setting the pace for the round. Afterwards, the jammers begin skating. The basic object of the game is for the jammers to break through the pack, scoring one point for each opposing team member they lap. Blockers and pivots try to prevent this, and this is where most of those gruesome injuries come from. At its sleekest, watching a jammer slalom through the pack is like watching salmon deftly evade the swinging claws of waiting grizzlies. At its worst, it’s a stampede, a mosh pit on wheels. Typically if one girl falls, a couple will fall down right over them.