The Rocktown Rollers, Harrisonburg’s women’s roller derby team since 2009, recently hosted a “Derby 101” at Funky’s Skate Center to give any “derby-curious” folks an opportunity to lace up some skates and get on the track. WMRA’s Randi B. Hagi reports.
[Sounds of the scrimmage]
Derby 101 events are a regular part of what the Rocktown Rollers call their “fresh meat” program – and even if you’ve never put on skates in your life, they want you to give it a shot.
SARA BLUE: Our team is very welcoming. We include everyone, whether you just want to skate, whether you just want to be part of the team … We include women, we include anyone who identifies as a woman, and we also have inclusions for non-binary as well.
Sara Blue, who skates under the name Gigglehertz, is the team’s coach. She says that what makes a good derby skater isn’t speed or appearance, but determination.
BLUE: The ability to shake something off and get back up again. We get knocked down a lot, and you just have to trust that your team is there to pick you back up … It is very intense, for sure, getting hit. But these are hits that you’ve been trained to take. Every now and then you get a hit that knocks the wind out of you. I mean, we’ve had skaters break their legs before. We’ve had injuries before.
The potential recruits at last week’s Derby 101 gear up, putting on skates, helmets, knee and elbow pads, and wristguards provided by the team. Veteran team members lead them in exercises: how to fall safely, how to control your speed and direction, how to stop.
Just outside the rink, Tanisha MacAdam, also known as Afro-die-t, sits at a table, putting wheels on the trucks of newly arrived skates. One of the very first Rocktown Rollers, she recently came back out of retirement.
TANISHA MACADAM: They had been practicing and building the team for about eight or nine months before I showed up, but I skated in our very first bout. And I had no business skating in our very first bout. We didn’t really have a formulated fresh meat program like we have now, so I’d been to like eight practices, and then I bouted … I did that for five years, coached for two, retired, have been gone for five, and just was missing it. Just was missing the camaraderie; I really didn’t fill the space with anything else.
MacAdam said she has to rebuild her skating prowess after being out of the game for a few years.
MACADAM: I threw up twice my second practice. [laughs]
Renée Miller came to the tryout last week to see if the sport was right for her. She hasn’t been on skates in about 15 years, and has never done roller derby.
*RENEE MILLER: I love to skate and I thought it was an opportunity to skate again. It’s been a long time … my Dad ran a roller rink when I was a little kid … I just, I’m interested in having fun.
Back in the rink, the team members don green and orange jerseys and demonstrate a bout: a jammer on each team, with stars on their helmets, trying to lap around the jostling walls of the other teams’ blockers to score points.
Rocktown Roller Holly Labbe, who skates under the name Bad Mom, came to the sport a bit more seasoned than some recruits. She had been bringing her kids to Funky’s for skate lessons.
HOLLY LABBE: So, my 40th birthday, we came and skated here just to have fun. And then shortly thereafter, I knew a couple women on the team, and I came to a bout. And was just, I decided I wasn’t getting any younger, and I really wanted to try … I didn’t decide I was going to join derby, I just kept coming. [laughs] And then I just never left, and it’s just been amazing.
That was four years ago. At some point, Labbe decided that if she was going to break a hip, she wanted to do it on the track, rather than just aging at home – thankfully, that hasn’t happened.
LABBE: It’s such a supportive group of women, and men, the officials also. And it’s not just the Rocktown community, it’s the leagues that we play against, too. They’re just, everyone is so supportive.
MacAdam said that support is extended to everyone, even the most trepidatious newcomer.
MACADAM: The fresh meat program and the ladies here and the coaching staff will give you the room you need and all the tools you need and will not put pressure on you that you have to be ready to go in any set amount of time. If you come in and are literally holding on to this wall, that’s fine. Next week we’ll have you letting go for a couple of minutes … If you’re going to get there and you want to get there, these are the people who are going to get you there. And they will give you the space and the room and the time and the humility to throw up at practice to do it. [laughs]
*Sadly, after this story aired, Rocktown Rollers informed WMRA that Renee Miller, one of the people featured in the interview, passed away suddenly a few days after Derby 101.