The first time Yvette Massinger, in her Roller Derby alter ego Va Voom Va Vet, knocked down another competitor on the track she said she was sorry.
“It took me a little while to really become aggressive. Now, I’m always looking for that great hit,” Massinger said.
For Massinger and the other Keizer women who strap on skates to compete in Salem’s Cherry City Derby Girls league, it takes time to divest themselves of the niceties deeply ingrained in the their personalities. They had to accept the first truth of derby: This is Derby, stop apologizing.
“It’s a little bit scary because you don’t want to hurt anybody, but they know how to get hit, you know how to get hit. When you start scrimmaging and there’s big smiles on everyone’s faces and everyone is screaming hit me harder, that’s when you know you’ve got it,” said Sherri Downer, aka Areola 51 and the current league president.
While nixing apologies includes begging forgiveness of other competitors, it also requires the derby girls to stop making excuses for themselves and checking perceived limitations at the door.
“You can’t have any expectations about derby or what you’re capable of,” said Erika Gabbard, aka Country Bumpkin. “None of us here started at the point where we’re at now.”
No one in the league starts at the top. To become a competitor on one of CCDG’s five teams that participate in the scrimmage bouts or travel to meet teams from other leagues, each skater must complete three levels of testing designed to show improvement and mastery of skills. New recruits start out with trainers who assist with their development and no one who reaches the team level can be afraid of falling, or getting up to try again.
Amber Titus, aka Clash of the Titus, fell and broke her ankle in her second practice last September.
“I didn’t think for a second that it was the end of the road,” Titus said. She sat out practices for three months and was recently picked up by one of the CCDG teams. The league’s scrimmage teams are the Dolls of Anarchy, Panty Raiders, Rydell Belles and Thrill Kill Kittens. The 8 Wheel Assassins are CCDG’s travel team that is typically made up of a combination of skaters from the other four.
If any of the skaters were prone to giving up, Kimberly Strand wouldn’t have made it as far as she has.
“I had just completed a part of the testing where we have to jump over cones, I looked back to show off and my legs went out from under me,” Strand said. She hit the ground and cut open her forehead, but the bleeding wasn’t the worst part, it was the “mattress pants” recruits wear to protect them from injury.
“All the cute paramedics were coming and I’ve got crash pants on,” she said.
Strand, known as DBL D’struction in derby circles, holds the infamous honor of being the first derby girl to end up in the emergency room – the gash required nine stitches to close – and her teammates wasted no time in making sure everyone knew of the accomplishment. They put electrode pads on her helmet.
Learning to accept follies and foolishness – and discovering how all of it is part of who they are – is the second truth of derby: Stop being a moth, embrace your butterfly.
Mail carrier Kym Smith competed in rollerskating from the age of 8 to 21 when life took her on other paths. As her adult children moved on, she was looking for something to call her own and derby provided an opportunity to strap on the skates again.
“It was a real shocker on the body and mind,” Smith said. She wasn’t sure she would be able to measure up, but she discovered she is a rock on skates. “They would hit me and I wouldn’t go anywhere.”
When team selection rolled around, most teams wanted her because they didn’t want to have to contend with her presence in a match.
Many of the women have ditched traditional gym memberships in favor of the derby workouts. When accountant Jenny Young, aka Unlawful Entry, was pulled into a bout to keep track of statistics, she decided instead to join the league.
“I stood there and said I want to skate. The workouts and watching yourself change are amazing. It makes you feel stronger and like you can do anything,” Young said.
Derby taught Dawn Andersson, aka Dawner Party, she could be fearless.
“I was one of the apologizers,” Andersson said. “I never would have thought that I would be here, much less want to be here as ravenously as I do. I’m still not the strongest skater or the strongest hitter, but I’m not afraid to get out there and try it.”
Before derby, Andersson felt anyone could count on her to get her work done, but since joining the league she’s become more proactive.
“I’ve coordinated the volunteers for the last three bouts and I would never have done that,” she said.
Andersson will make her debut as a Panty Raider at CCDG’s April 30 bout and she’s hoping to get even better at the sport before the opening whistle.
“I just want to be the best asset I can for my team, there’s so much happening in a match that I end up picking a single piece and forgetting other aspects. I want to get to the point where by the time I’m thinking it, I’m already doing it,” she said.
There is only one absolute guarantee in derby, participants will fall down, but there’s an unspoken part that is the third truth of derby: We got your back.
“There are certain people you mesh with in life,” said Angel Olsen, aka Paingelic. “Derby is where mine are.”
For all their teased hair and heavy eyeliner, the one thing that all the women cite as one of their primary reasons for being derby girls – keeping in mind that ages range from 18-52 – is sisterhood.
“We’ve had three girls break a leg in a month and we’ve run them to doctor appointments and brought them meals and they’re still part of the league and their team. We want them to know that even when they can’t be here,” Gabbard said.
When another derby participant’s house burned, a call went out throughout the league and the women responded with offers of help, but it goes beyond the boundaries of the league as well.
“We’ve done events for teen girls at the library, collected food for the Marion-Polk Food Share, cleaned up roads and had a team of workers go out to the Extreme Makeover site,” Strand said.
Whether they’re banding together to sign autographs for the young girls ages 6-12, who tend to be their biggest fans, or helping each other through the trials of life, death and everything in between, the sense of sisterhood is the most pervasive aspect of all they do.
“You meet so many wonderful supporting people and they’re willing to let you take all the time you need. It’s a wonderful feeling to know someone has always got your back,” said Sari Halverson, aka Newbie #344.
Rules of the derby
A bout or game is composed of 60 minutes of play divided into two periods of 30 minutes played between two teams.
A period is divided into multiple jams, which are races between the two teams to score points. There is no limit to the number of jams allowed in each period. A jam may last up to two minutes.
Only skaters wearing the jammer’s starred helmet cover are eligible to accrue points.
After clearing the pack and completing her initial (first) pass, jammers score points by passing skaters on their second and each subsequent pass. These are considered “scoring passes.” Points are earned when the jammer passes each opposing skater, including those who have been knocked to the floor or are out of play.
The team with the most points at the end of the game wins.