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Rocktown Rollers' 'Nerd' Returns To 'Organized Chaos'

Mike Tripp

It’s been 11 years since the Rocktown Rollers brought the sport of roller derby to Harrisonburg.  WMRA’s Mike Tripp recently visited with a couple of the team’s players, one a veteran returning from an injury and the other relatively new to the team.

EVENT ANNOUNCER: She keeps it one hundred. Your captain … number 100 … Revenga d’Nerd!

[Crowd cheers]

Credit Mike Tripp
Revenga d'Nerd (center) warms up as she skates around the rink at the start of practice at Funky's Skate Center. Known off the track as Nickie Gauthier-Martin, she teaches English as a second language at a local high school.

NERD: Revenga d’Nerd! Because I’m a nerd! Off the track and on the track!

Nickie Gauthier-Martin loves her derby name. It represents who she is. It represents her journey with Harrisonburg’s Rocktown Rollers. For her it means … developing strength, endurance, having fun and establishing life-long friendships. But her preference is the shortened form of the name … Nerd. 

NERD: I originally became interested in roller derby when a friend of mine made friends with a roller derby team in North Carolina.  I became a little obsessed, and then I decided when I finish graduate school I was going to move to North Carolina to be on this roller derby team.  But by the time I finished my graduate studies, there were two teams actually in the area --- one in Harrisonburg and one in Charlottesville. So, I joined the Harrisonburg team which is the Rocktown Rollers.

[Sounds from the bout.]

She lived her dream for several years, competing alongside her teammates … her friends.  But then she got hurt. 

Credit Mike Tripp
Katherine Chaos (right), aka. Katherine Bray, of the Rocktown Rollers goes down during a bout against SuperNOVAs, at Funky's Skate Center in Harrisonburg in September.

NERD: Oh man! That injury was terrible! So I’m wrapping up my tenth year of roller derby and this was my first major injury that took me out. It was unfortunate that it was the first five minutes of our first game of this season, and I just took a big hit. And I fell weird, and I shattered my fibula. It broke in three places, and I could not have any weight bearing for two months.  And after that I walked in a boot.

And that’s when, she says, the team really came through for her. 

NERD:  Nobody emotionally prepared me for that, but the league was awesome. It comes down to community. They didn’t let me stay down very long. They brought me food. They did my laundry. They vacuumed my carpets. They visited me. They sent me funny videos. They did everything they could to keep me up and keep me included. And I did. Even though I couldn’t walk I … [becomes choked up with tears] … I came back. … I came back to practice. It was really nice. Even though I couldn’t skate, I would just come to practice and sit in the middle and have hand weights. And I would just exercise and be a part of the team. It was really special.

So she waited. Not always patiently, but she waited. And then, September 14th

NERD: Well … After seven months, I skate with my team again, and they’re my family.

So what is roller derby? It’s more that ladies just skating in a circling pushing and shoving.

NERD: Ok, the sport of roller derby is a 60-minute game and two 30-minute halves. Each team has 15 skaters, and they field five skaters at a time on the track. 

One skater from each team … identified by a star on the helmet … is designated jammer for that team. She is the one who scores the points.

Credit Mike Tripp
Revenga d'Nerd and Katherine Chaos slap hands with fans as the Rocktown Rollers skate around the rink following their bout against the SuperNOVAs.

NERD: There’s no ball in the game.  You can maybe envision that person as a ball if it helps you think of the points.

The other four skaters are blockers, playing both offense and defense at the same time.

NERD: Once each jammer gets through the pack of blockers the first time, then that jammer scores one point for each opposing blocker she passes in a two-minute period.

First person through the pack is designated as lead jammer, and this person can actually end the two-minute period, otherwise called a “jam,” early should she choose.

NERD: But otherwise it goes two minutes and they try to score as many points as they can by passing through as many times as they can.  Really, it’s easy to consider the jammers the star of the game, but there’s incredible talent in a defensive and an offensive line. … It’s just chaos. It’s chaos. But the more you play, it becomes organized chaos.

[Natural sounds from the bout]

Speaking of chaos, meet Katherine Bray. She’s one of the newer members of the team.

Credit Mike Tripp
Katherine Chaos makes her way through the pack as jammer for her team during a bout against SuperNOVAs.

KATHERINE CHAOS: My name is Katherine Chaos, and I started this in January. And everyone I know was extremely surprised, but here I am. I had to start from scratch really. I skated a lot growing up, but it had been years and years since I had been on anything with wheels. So basically, they trained me again from the start. For me, the hardest part is being able to stay focused when you’re out there. There is so much going on around you and there are people moving all over the place. You know, it’s really, really hard. It definitely feels like draining sometimes to push through people or to be constantly going and trying to stop somebody. But at the end of it, you’re still standing up, you’ve made it and you feel good. 

NERD: I wouldn’t say everybody can do roller derby, but most people can. I think we make it as possible as possible. It’s a dangerous sport. Yes, it’s aggressive, but we give people the skills they need to be able to play and enjoy it and be safe. And that’s coming from the woman who just broke her leg, so … you know … just come play and have fun.

EVENT ANNOUNCER: Alright! That was a roller derby bout, I’d say!

Mike Tripp is a freelance reporter based in Staunton. He has worked as as a photojournalist in the Shenandoah Valley for more than 25 years.