Assistant Spectrum Editor
This past Saturday, the Richmond Convention Center was crawling with women with threatening nicknames and colorful mouth guards as they skated at full speed and knocked each other to the ground.
According to some members of the River City Rollergirls, Richmond’s all-female roller derby association, the sport of roller derby has been revived in the last few years partly because of the Ellen Page and Drew Barrymore film “Whip It.”
“I’ll admit it. I saw the 2009 movie ‘Whip It,’ and I thought it looked like a fun, empowering sport,” said seasoned roller derby skater Terri Vernon, also known as Thistle Hurt. “I bought a cheap pair of skates, skated around my neighborhood and then tried out for the team.”
Roller derby is a contact sport played with two teams skating the same direction on a flat oval track. Richmond has four separate roller derby teams. River City Rollergirls, or RCR, consists of Poe’s Punishers and Uncivil Warriors. There is also Mother State Roller Derby and Seven Hills Roller Derby, although they are not affiliated with RCR.
Poe’s Punishers is RCR’s all-star team. They are a professional group with the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. RCR’s “B team” is the Uncivil Warriors. Both of these teams travel the East Coast for matches.
Richmond’s other roller derby teams include Mother State Roller Derby, who use their own names and deviated from RCR several years ago, and Seven Hills Roller Derby, formerly known as the Richmond Derby Demons. Seven Hills Roller Derby is a co-ed league who use a slightly different set of rules than the all female leagues.
Roller Derby has become known for its violent and aggressive nature, but RCR players protect themselves with helmets, knee pads, elbow pads and mouth guards and have remained relatively uninjured, they say.
“I’ve gotten elbowed in the face many times, once causing me to bite straight through my mouth guard into my tongue,” said Lindsay Carter, or Sirius Block, a senior communication arts major and one of the few VCU students in RCR.
“When I first joined roller derby, I expected something like ‘Whip It,’ with fighting and makeup and fishnets,” Carter said. “The aggression, fun names and fishnets are clearly still there, but it’s much more of a strategic sport than I imagined. I love every part of it.”
Each roller derby game consists of two 30-minute sessions with five players from each team on the track at a time. The basic concept is for the jammer from each team to get past the other players to earn points, all while skating around an oval track on a flat cement floor.
The violence of roller derby comes from the other players trying to block the jammer and shove the other team members off the track. Once a player is off the track, they must re-enter the track behind the player who pushed them out.
Roller derby is not all skates and fights, however. RCR works to inspire a family and community atmosphere. They encourage a sense of commitment and teamwork and a development of personal character.
“You may hate your opponent on the track, but you’re going to dance with her at the after party, and she might become your new best friend or derby crush,” said Carter.
RCR also supports gender equality on and off the track.
“These are real women. They’re not paid. They have real jobs and real lives. … What makes derby unique is that there is a place for every person who identifies as a woman. There are plenty of transgender skaters and a huge LGBTQ population within the derby community,” said Carter. “There is a special place for every body type. You can be good at something derby whether you are tall, short, big, small, whatever. It all works.”
RCR is also a nonprofit organization. Every year, RCR picks a new charity to which they donate their time and profits. This year their charities are the Virginia Food Bank and Kill the Vein, Save the Brain. Kill the Brain, Save the Brain is an unofficial charity as it does not have nonprofit status. A former RCR skater suffered an aneurysm during a game last year and RCR donates money to her ongoing medical expenses.
The average RCR member donates six hours a month to volunteer work and a portion of each ticket sale goes to the charity.
Those interested in joining RCR must first go through a Fresh Meat training session. No previous skating skills are required for Fresh Meat. The only prerequisites are to be over the age of 18 and to first attend an interest session. RCR is also currently looking for male or female referees.
“I didn’t know how to skate very well at all when I started, but I was welcomed with open arms and received all the training I needed to be successful,” said Vernon. “(Roller derby) has changed my life for the better.” CT
The next interest session is Thursday at 7 p.m. at Rollerdome Skating.