Roller derby is no longer the stuff of fishnet stockings and clotheslining the opposition. Today’s game is played on a flat track by skaters who consider themselves more athletes than entertainers. With full-contact hits, powerful skating, and ballerina-like footwork, there’s plenty of excitement to be found in the modern evolution of the sport.
Roller derby is alive and well at the Nashville Fairgrounds Sports Arena, home to the Nashville Rollergirls. Now in their 11th season, the Nashville Rollergirls have consistently been ranked within the top 15% of competitive Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby Association (WFTDA).
Skaters range in age from 18 to their late 40’s and come from all walks of life, but they all have two things in common: their love for roller derby and a fiercely competitive attitude.
We tracked down some of the girls to get a full report on how this hard-hitting sport has changed them on and off the track. Above all, we discovered roller derby is about athleticism, strength, agility, and – most importantly – sisterhood.
Name: Tiffaney Sharman/Lil Red Right Hook (Red)
Profession: Customer Service Representative, mother of two children under 5
Like many skaters, Red didn’t come from a previously athletic background. It wasn’t until she was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the age of 21 that she started working out on a regular basis.
Red was a fan of her local roller derby league but couldn’t see herself as a potential skater. “My husband secretly emailed the league and asked them about signing up for derby.” After she was persuaded into giving it a try, Red was hooked and immediately renewed her commitment to fitness.
“Before derby, working out was all about managing diabetes.” Now, her routine revolves around agility and endurance, two very important skills Red uses as a jammer.
For inspiration, Red also looks to ice hockey. “I love watching NHL players on the ice. They are so agile and so powerful on skates. I want to be like that on the track: good control, speed and power.”
Roller derby is a full contact sport and the risk of injury is very real. In 2014, Red broke her tib-fib in an early season game and, in turn, discovered she was pregnant. Coming back from a bone break is difficult and pregnancy prolonged her hiatus from skating, but Red was determined to get back on the track. “I wanted to show my son that even though I was hurt, I could come back from injury and play again. If you really want something, you’ll do whatever it takes to get it.”
Red is in the gym almost every day and is stronger than ever. “I can do several box jumps now. Something I couldn’t before. I can even back squat and deadlift my own body weight.” It’s not always easy, but if she’s having a tough day, Red finds motivation in telling herself, “If you beat yourself up, give it a day, have your pity party, but then shake it off and get back out there and work even harder.”
Name: Rusti Keen/Virginia Slam (Slam)
Profession: Curriculum and Assessment Coordinator with LEAD Public Schools
Modern roller derby requires a lot more of its skaters than just playing the sport. Most teams, including Nashville Rollergirls, are entirely skater-owned-and-operated. Skater Virginia Slam explains, “As a member of the Nashville Rollergirls’ Board of Directors, there are times when running the business side of the league, apart from working full time and training and practicing, can get overwhelming.”
Slam did not play sports in school nor regularly worked out before derby. “It was a challenge figuring out the weekly time management and learning to train and eat like an athlete,” she admits. “I’m now lifting weights three days a week, cycling whenever we don’t have practice, focusing on my core two days a week, and making sure I’m attending all the derby practices.”
Slam believes the hard work is worth it though. “I’m getting stronger every day, both mentally and physically,” she says. “I love knowing that I take up space and can’t be literally pushed around. I also believe that derby gave me the mental toughness and confidence to stand up for myself more in life. It’s a great feeling.”
She relies on this toughness in her work at LEAD Public Schools in Nashville. “Sometimes, my body is tired and hurts, but I know I have to get up and go to work the next day and act like it doesn’t.”
Name: Leonie Leduc/Arwen LeavinScars (Arwen)
Arwen LeavinScars believes she would not find the motivation to be active without roller derby in her life. “I was a swimmer all through high school, so my previous fitness experience was on a structured team with goals. Without the structure of a team sport and the goals for performing in a competitive environment, I’m a couch potato,” she says.
The cost of performing in a competitive environment such as roller derby can take its toll though. Arwen has had two tib-fib fractures over the course of her derby career, but she hasn’t let that slow her down. “When I was rehabbing my ankles, the first words out of my mouth were ‘how can I get back to skating again?’” This mental toughness and resiliency is not uncommon in the sport.
To help her return to playing form following her injuries, Arwen relied on practicing yoga and ballet. “When you watch roller derby, it looks like it’s all about power, but getting into derby stance requires a lot of flexibility.” The derby stance posture keeps skaters in a quarter-squat stance and helps them remain a stable and upright posture, even when taking heavy hits. It requires abundant ankle flexibility to facilitate quick movements as well as a strong posterior chain and core for stability.
What has motivated Arwen to keep going? “I’m a lot happier taking up space in the world because of derby. It’s something I think is important for women to have in their arsenal. It’s a place where you have to be confident in knowing that you take up space and you’re supposed to use your body.”
Name: Mayme Van Meveren/Kitty Cataclysm (Kitty)
To get a sense for Kitty Cataclysm’s skating style, you have to first understand that her fitness role models are MMA fighters Ronda Rousey and Danyelle Wolf. As a jammer, Kitty is responsible for scoring points using only her body and must battle her way through the pack of blockers whose goal is to stop her by any means necessary.
“I’m very confident I could take any person in a fight, and I don’t remember thinking that before derby. Derby has given me strength and the ability to hold myself in any situation, and I don’t worry about walking down dark streets anymore.”
Kitty relies on weight lifting to stay strong, focusing a lot on glutes and core. “Strong glutes give you more power and a sturdy core is how we stay upright during hard hits, so I put some kind of glutes and abs routine into my workouts every day.”
Roller derby is a huge motivator not just for her workouts but also for her recovery as she returns to playing after a clavicle break in 2016. “As I get back into the gym, my motivation is ‘it’s X number of weeks before I have to get back on skates again’.” Now fully recovered from her injury, Kitty is looking forward to returning to the team full-time in 2017.
“I think roller derby is a big part of my identity now, and if I had to stop playing I would have to find some other competitive, physical activity to do because I’ve become attached to having teammates and competition. Many of us haven’t played sports before, so when we stumbled across derby there is some innate draw to the idea of being able to skate hard and take hits and work as a team.”