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Dedication on Wheels: What it Takes to be a Derby Girl

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Skill on wheels. That’s how I described women’s roller derby in an article written in February about Sacramento’s women’s roller derby team, the Sac City Rollers. But in meeting up with them again, I learned that being a derby girl—or derby athlete as they call themselves—requires much more than just skill.

“I look for the fight, that desire, that want to be able to do this,” Motormouth, a Coach of the Sac City Rollers, said of what he looks for in his skaters. “We can eventually teach skating skills, the game and the strategy. But if you don’t have that burning fire? You can’t teach that.”

The mental game is what he calls it, and it’s rooted, he says, in one thing.

“It all boils down to dedication,” said Motormouth. “I tell them to look at all the time and dedication they put in week in and week out—time away from family, or the birthday party they missed or the gas money they spent to drive to and from practice…[and] use that as a fuel.”

Respect for the sport is hard earned, but they still have to fight the old school stereotype of show-pleasing, senseless-hitting antics. What we see today is the new era of derby, complete with game-play regulations and players as physically and emotionally dedicated as any athlete.

Derby skaters, at least those playing at the WFTDA level like the Sac City Rollers’ A team, the Capitol Punishers, practice 3-4 days a week, 2-3 hours each time. They are expected also to do cross training on off days. And most of them have full time jobs or are full time parents. What do they use their vacation time for? Skating in away games across the nation. And while not intended, when participating in a game as physical as roller derby, injuries are bound to happen—broken bones, sprained ankles, hurt knees, black eyes, you name it.

“The fans that come out see the blood, sweat, and tears. Literally,” said Motormouth.

So why would a derby girl want to be a derby girl? For the Punishers’ Captain and veteran derby skater, La Lucha, it has a lot to do with being able to apply off the rink things learned on, such as confidence, overcoming objection and staying calm and focused. Roller derby, she says, makes her a better person, which she also credits to the family-like bond teammates form.

“All of us come from different backgrounds, but when you come on the track, they don’t care who you were or what you’ve done,” said La Lucha. “When you’re on the track, you’re a teammate. And it’s the best feeling ever…So I think that at this level of dedication, it’s easy to be there all the time because these people make you feel so good and you get so much out of it.”

That family-like bond crosses over off the rink, too, as both La Lucha and Motormouth talked about being a part of a tight group who has your back through the good and bad of each other’s personal lives. Their shared experiences translate back to their game because what they do, they do for each other—including rising to the challenges of the sport so as not to let their teammates down.

Addiction is also a factor, Motormouth pointed out, adding that it’s the fun of the sport that attracts them to it in the first place.

“They become addicted it,” he said. “A lot of the girls who play at this level have to have some kind of addictive personality. They’ve just chosen to form it in a positive way.”

This season, which just began in February, is a rebuilding year for the Punishers, having come from their best season yet and a D1 WTDFA ranking, but adjusting the loss of 7 skaters who retired at the end of last season. That’s half of a 14-person team. Since skaters tend to get know each other so well that they can just look at each other on the rink and know what they are going to do, it will take some time to get to know new players at that level. But La Lucha sees it as an opportunity to bring up the newer girls, who she says has a lot of great skills, and with time and dedication, together, they will all be able to fully act as a team.

Of the crowd, La Lucha said people love the big hits. “That’s one of the biggest things people go ‘Oh man!’—when they get the crazy hits and girls fall. It’s a highly physical, highly mental game, and these girls work their butts off…We give our heart and soul out there and the crowd, they know that.”

So it seems as though it’s not just skill on wheels. It’s dedication of wheels, too.

To see for yourself the time, athleticism, and dedication it takes to be a derby girl, check out their schedule and be a part of the action by purchasing tickets through their website at saccityrollers.com. Home bouts are played at The Rink, 2900 Bradshaw Rd, Sacramento. Tickets are $12 adv./$15 at door.

Photos by Bethany Harris

About the author

Bethany Harris

Bethany joined Sacramento Press in 2013 and enjoys writing articles that uncover the happenings of the city and the people behind the stories who make them so worth telling. A native of Sacramento, she also loves photography, running, gardening, coffee, and discovering new places and new things to do--both in the city and throughout California.

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