Roller derby offers women of Wyoming and sports fans something new

Sep 20, 2013

Derby skaters, including WPR’s own “Tallulah Bankrobber” (Rebecca Martinez) line up at the start of a jam at Cheyenne’s ‘5v5’ Tournament.
Credit Chelsea Biondolillo

Modern roller derby is a contact sport that features two teams roller skating on a track, attempting to score by passing players of the opposing team. While the sport’s origins can be traced back to beginning of the 20th century, it was revived in the early 2000s in Texas…BY women and FOR women.

Since then, teams have started up all over the world. Wyoming has been a late adopter of the sport, but women here are making up for lost time.

[AMBI Sports announcer: “And she makes it through! That is a grand slam folks!]

CHELSEA BIONDOLILLO: Recently skaters from all over Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska met up in Cheyenne for a multi-team derby tournament which gave skaters a chance to mix and match teams and practice their skills.

Just as in the public bouts, the skaters use pseudonyms, called “derby names” and often wear costumes inspired by burlesque fashions, including tutus and fishnet stockings, in addition to helmets and other safety gear.

Derby is well known by its fans for being a full-contact sport. But unlike other sports, most teams will train any willing skater, even women who have never roller skated before.

Friends and family call the coach of Casper’s team Vera by day, but on the track she’s known as “Fatal Distraction.” Distraction says that the inclusion roller derby offers appeals to many women who have been left out of traditional athletics.

FATAL DISTRACTION:  You ask any one of the girls and they’ll tell you it’s their favorite workout. It promotes athleticism, health, endurance, camaraderie, it’s amazing that way. It becomes such a community and such a part of who you are.

BIONDOLILLO: But once on a team, many women find that derby offers women something else: the freedom to take on a fearlessly competitive persona.

“Bomb Dylan,” as she’s known, skates for Laramie’s Naughty Pines Derby Dames. She came to Laramie for two reasons, to attend the University and get on a roller derby team.

BOMB DYLAN: “I think it offers far more opportunity to be aggressive and unapologetic about that. I mean, in girls’ lacrosse you can’t make contact—but in mens’ you can. In derby, you can be aggressive, you can be sexy, you can be a lot of things.”

BIONDOLILLO: But “PunisHer Page” of Casper’s Deadly Ghosts says that the physical contact is only part of the freedom of derby. The costumes and derby names are also important.

PUNISHER PAGE: A lot of it is you just have your alter ego on top of that name. You are who you are at work during the day—they call you by your first name,  you know your last name—you get on the track, and you get to put all that aside. Everything you wanted to do and try, you just let it out and go for it.

BIONDOLILLO: Many skaters are quick to say that their lives have been changed by roller derby. “Panty Waster,” or pee-dub as she’s known to her teammates, skates for the Cheyenne Capidolls and says that meeting beautiful tough women from all over the state and the sense of sportsmanship they share is what keeps her coming back.

PANTY WASTER: The word empowerment is kind of overused in derby, but that really is what it gives women. It gives them some strength and some attitude.

BIONDOLILLO: Strength, attitude, and a community rich in diversity… “Debbie Mercury” skates double duty for both the Naughty Pines and Capidolls.

[AMBI Sports announcer: “Are you ready for some derby?”]

DEBBIE MERCURY: You know I’ve met so many strong women in this sport. People from all walks of life: teachers, lawyers, doctors, people in radio—everyone. And we all come together and hit each other real hard and have a good time.

BIONDOLILLO: Jamie Gooch—or “G.I. Jameson”—is a referee for the Laramie league…and he’s first and foremost a fan of the strategies and athleticism of the players.

GI JAMESON: “It’s really fun to watch, it’s really fun to get into—there’s only a close second for me, and that’s watching my college football.”

BIONDOLILLO: There are several teams across the state, two of which are recognized nationally by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association and more who plan to pursue membership. While derby bouts don’t draw the same crowds as football games – at least not yet – the teams take their sport just as seriously as any gridiron player. For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Chelsea Biondolillo.