Cannibal Cupcake is whipped forward and jumps the apex, but the pack looks ready to eat the baby on this jam and the zebras are keeping a close eye on each hit. A little lost? Welcome to the world of roller derby.
More and more, women across North Texas and the Texoma region are lacing up their skates and joining roller derby leagues and teams as a way to socialize and exercise. The sport draws women of all different backgrounds for fast-paced bouts that require a solid strategy and lots of teamwork.
“When I talk to them about roller derby, most people think I'm just punching people or something like that while I'm on skates,” said Brooke Janacek, roller derby athlete and marketer with the Plano-based Assassination City Roller Derby league. “It's not like that. It's just like any other sport with rules, teams and strategy.”
First conjured up in the 1930s, roller derby is a contact sport played mostly by women. Bouts consist of two-minute match ups known as jams, in which teams designate a jammer to score points by lapping certain members of the opposing team. Blockers help their team's jammer pass the opposing team and do their best to prevent competing jammers from passing. One blocker, known as the pivot, can become the jammer if the team so decides and a special sticker is transferred from the sitting jammer's helmet in order to do so.
Teams typically consist of 14 or so players, five of which are allowed to to take the ring for each jam. Bouts move in counter clockwise laps around a flat track and are always played on roller skates.
Janacek said roller derby has earned a reputation as a rough-and-tumble sport and though players have to suit up in safety gear, they still find fun ways to express themselves.
“We wear our elbow pads, wrist guards, knee pads, helmets and mouth guards. We're all padded up,” Janacek said. “We all have jerseys that represent our team, but then the rest is largely up to the players. People have different bout make up and styles of that. Some look scary and some go with sparkles, tall socks, fishnet stockings and other crazy outfits and designs.”
Perhaps most creative are the names and alter egos, players take on when they roll into the rink.
“People usually use a play on words with something that they're interested in or a play on their own name,” Janacek said. “I chose Coconut Rumble because a beach vacation is my favorite thing. I like puns so I thought coconut rum and rumble totally fit the bill.”
Other notable names include the previously mentioned Cannibal Cupcake, the Harry-Potter-inspired Luna Slamgood, WreckLiz N' Dangerous and Squasha Fierce, which references the title of an album by music superstar Beyoncé Knowles.
But the name of the game in roller derby is physical fitness. Corky Cronin, who lives in Celina, said even a lifetime of playing different sports wasn't enough to prepare for the demands of the derby.
“I've played basketball, baseball, softball, soccer and volleyball. Nothing comes close to the level of complex strategy in roller derby,” Cronin said. “You have to be able to shift from offense to defense in like half a second and think two or three steps ahead. I think it's really challenging, both mentally and physically.”
Cronin, who competes under the name Corkscrew Yu, said she works out multiple times each week on top of two lengthy practices. She said derby athletes have to commit to a rigorous fitness regiment if they really want to be ready for bouts.
“You have to have a really strong core. It helps to work out your back muscles, your leg muscles,” Cronin said. “Anything skaters can do off-skate to kind of support that is good. Things like yoga, any sort of weight training and circuit training is helpful.”
But for Cronin, the most helpful thing about roller derby in her everyday life might be the release it offers.
“As a therapist, I can tell you that it's very healthy to have an outlet for your emotions,” Cronin said. “There is nothing quite like being able to strap on a pair of skates and hit someone to work out some of the frustration or aggression.”
And for Jordan Richardson, a crime scene investigator living in Van Alstyne and jammer for La Revolucion, one of the best things about the roller derby is that pretty much anyone can get involved.
“You don't have to come in some prodigy of an athlete,” Richardson said. “You can be any type of person with any type of background and come into roller derby. It's one of the few sports where if you work hard, you can actually learn some amazing things.”
Richardson said she could still remember her first time in the rink and how nervous she was. But after seeing the camaraderie and receiving the compassion of even the most seasoned derby girls, Richardson said that's all the encouragement she or anyone else ever could have needed to get started.
“Everyone is constantly learning,” Richardson said. “Even the skaters I look up to, they're still working on other and new things and they're very open about that. There's no reason not to try it if you want to.”