The rough draft of my story about Bama’s badass rollergirls, which appeared in the Auburn magazine:
If the “rink rash” from a skidding fall burns a cross-hatched imprint of fishnets into their rock-hard thighs, so much the better.
In the rough-and-tumble world of women’s roller derby, that counts as just another sexy battle-scar, proof that the Burn City Rollers are hell’s belles on wheels. The group, with about a dozen members in their 20s and 30s, started in September of 2008 and consists largely of students, professors, and other employees and alumnae of Auburn, though the league hopes to recruit more players around the region.
“This is a positive outlet for your aggression, ” rollergirl “Jackie OwnAsses” (say it fast) explains earnestly over the din of jostling elbows, thudding falls, and trash-talk — “Git offa me, you crackhead!” — on the rink at Auburn Skate Center, where the league practices three nights a week.
Each team member adopts a punny, over-the-top nom de guerre that reflects her derby alter-ego. “I’m a Korean adoptee, but my name – Carrie Holzmeister – so does not sound Korean. I wanted to honor that part of my heritage somehow,” Cho Cold says, adding with a sigh, “It takes some people awhile to get it, though.”
Holzmeister, who taught English at Auburn, founded the Burn City Rollers with some help from Birmingham’s Tragic City Rollers, after reading an article about the sport’s revival.
“This started as a whim,” she says. “At five-foot-two, I’m too short to play basketball, but I can move quickly,” she says. “Skates are great equalizers, so this is an every-woman’s sport, with no previous experience required.”
A certain fearlessness is required, though, both in athleticism and wardrobe, for this “Fight Club” sorority.
“Did somebody lose a pantaloon?” Cho Cold yells, waving a swath of fabric.
The skaters camp it up with colorful tutus, ratty tights, striped knee socks, old-fashioned garters, and other funky fetishes. For example, Babe E. Quakes is striking in a Xena-style gladiator costume, which loses a tassel or two during scrimmage, and Ziggy Bloodlust sports black nail polish and some neon-pink highlights in her hair. If you are hovering at the edge of the rink and see a pack of these fierce, tarted up Glamazon warriors hurtling your way, some of them with capes billowing behind them, the total effect is like an unnerving, apocalyptic scene from “Mad Max.” To be a rollergirl is to be a femme fatale in every since of the word.
Cho Cold clarifies, “This is not the same as choreographed, cheeseball wrestling. What we do is natural sport. A former rugby player on our team says this is more physically demanding than rugby. It survives because people will pay to watch women hit each other, more so than, say, paying to watch us play softball.”
Indeed, any event that integrates girlie burlesque with bad-ass violence will draw a crowd. Since its bloody heyday in the 1970s, women’s roller derby has made a comeback as a cheeky, punk-influenced expression of Third Wave feminist attitude, especially in the heartland, where small-town girls come of age at skating rinks. Because it is fast, anarchic, in-your-face, anti-corporate, and dominated by mouthy, tattooed women bristling with radical politics, it is often described as the opposite of golf. The word “empowering” pops up often in conversation.
“I’ve never done anything athletic before this – I mean, I was the Quiz Bowl captain type,” says Paina Skully, an X-Files fan who just earned a master’s in English. “I’ve really surprised myself – and a lot of other people – with what I am capable of physically. This is the best shape I’ve ever been in.”
The sport originally grew out of co-ed endurance contests during the Depression, and its guidelines were outlined by Guys and Dolls author Damon Runyon.
“It can be hard for newcomers to follow because there’s so much going on at once on the rink,” Cho Cold says.
Victory is not determined, as some might think, by the “last woman standing.” Like most full-contact sports, roller derby involves overcoming obstacles to get from point A to point B, relying on an offense and a defense: the nimblest skater is the team’s “jammer” who scores points by making laps, assisted by burly “blockers” and a “pivot.” Using practiced moves such as “The Waitress,” teammates spin each other around in a sort of centrifugal do-si-do.
“We have to learn proper ways to fall,” says Babe E. Quakes, who demonstrates the “Rock Star,” dropping to her knees like Elvis; “Doggy Style,” on all fours; the “Baseball Slide”; and basic one-knee maneuvers. “If we sprawl spread-eagle, that’s called the ‘Ragdoll,’” she says, collapsing in a heap of blond braids and fringe.
Bumps, bruises, blisters, and sore muscles throb after every practice, the rollergirls say, despite padded gear and mouth-guards.
“We had one broken leg, but that was a fluke, a freaky fall,” Cho Cold says.
At one point during the scrimmage, Amyn Atcha takes a spill. After an outburst of smack-talking to rouse her up, the rink goes ominously quiet as another skater rushes to her aid and, a few moments later, shouts, “It’s OK – it’s just her ass! Get an ice-pack.”
The Burn City Rollers have traveled to Mobile, Baton Rouge, and Knoxville to compete, with the goal of eventually joining what they call the “big dogs” at the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. They also are excited about a summer trip to Oklahoma City to tackle the banked rink where Drew Barrymore filmed “Whip It.”
In the meantime, the ladies will hold their own end-of-season awards banquet. “We get to dress up – I mean, in an actual dress,” a skater named 9 Lb. Hammer says. They give each other trophies in categories such as “Hardest Hit,” “Most Likely to Kill Another Team Member,” and “Smelliest Calves.”
Cooling down with a few crunches and push-ups, the sweaty skaters, with mascara streaking, start planning the ceremony’s menu. “If we’re going to have tea, we’ll definitely need scones,” Cho Cold says, turning dainty, without irony, for just a moment.