Women on wheels
by Phil Houseal
Jan 2, 2013
“Why are you so fascinated with this roller derby?”
A fair question from my wife.
I think it’s because I’m fascinated by people who are serious about fun, but who don’t take themselves seriously.
This summer I wrote about the “Kerr Ella de Villes,” the first women’s flat track roller derby team to come to the Hill Country.
In September, Robin Gunshows (#9mm) showed up in Fredericksburg and started the wheels turning for the Fredericksburg Fatales.
Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby is blowing up across the country, so why shouldn’t we have our own team?
For those of you with the wrong impression, roller derby is not about bashing and crashing. Well, OK. It is a little bit. But you might be surprised at the answers I got when I asked ladies in the first local graduating class, why are you doing this?
“Because Clark Kent can’t hit somebody in the supermarket.” That is Gunshows’ succinct response. “We don’t have capes; we have skates!”
It sums up the dual personality of derby participants. Each skater adopts an alter ego for the track, complete with costume, makeup, and made up derby name. At their graduation (fresh meat) party, they officially assumed their characters: Meecha Maker, Mya Nnihilation, Leia Outcold, Chick Contender (#10pc), Bam Bam Slamma, iPsycho, and Megan U. Randi (#OU1).
Even non-skating officials get into the act. Meet Shirley Not, Half Pint, and E. Norm Us.
The fact the Fatales started in September and had seven graduates by November shows the amount of interest locally.
“They’ve come a long way in a short time,” Gunshows said. “These ladies didn’t know each other before, and now they are best friends.”
That sisterhood on wheels was a response I heard over and over.
“This is good therapy,” said Meecha Maker. “Anywhere else you can’t get away with hitting other people legally. It’s a great workout, and also my second family. All the girls love each other. It’s awesome.”
Bam Bam Slamma agreed. “There is nothing better than joining a group of strong women and forming a sisterhood,” she said. “Being able to beat up on each other, then drink a beer afterward: that’s why I’m doing it.”
“I like the idea of being on a team,” said Chick Contender, who didn’t do sports in high school. “I feel I really missed out. I’ve fallen in love with all the girls. It’s just like family.”
Derby is a confidence builder for these young women. “I knew it would be hard, but it’s pushed me out of my comfort zone physically and mentally,” Contender continued. “It’s scary. But to put yourself out in front of everybody and to feel confident is empowering.”
Gunshows believes that empowerment is key. That is the reason derby raises funds for organizations that prevent domestic violence.
“Derby as a sport fights against abuse,” she said. “We want to take a stand against the wrong kind of violence.”
Gunshows knows from personal experience. Before moving to Texas, she was in an abusive relationship. It was derby that saved her.
“If I had not had derby, I would have stuck around a lot longer and taken many more punches. But I had these girls. Empowerment? Absolutely. Robin kicks in. Robin is part of me. This is when she gets to play.”
Despite the double entendres and garish garb, derby is definitely a family event. The bouts are fun and highlight women as heroes. Even as I interviewed the skaters, I had to wait as young girls came up and asked them for autographs.
Make no mistake: derby is physical. Gunshows calls it “a safe place to get hurt.” The bout is full contact. Girls end up in fans' laps. After practice, they are bruised and sore for days. Fans are part of the game, rooting and booing. The “jeer leaders” are encouraged to dress up, make banners, and be part of every aspect of the games.
The Fredericksburg Fatales pledge to put on seven bouts in 2013 at Pat’s Hall. They are looking for more skaters, non-skating officials, and community sponsors. There is a 3 to 1 ratio of non-skaters to skaters. No experience is needed. Size, age, shape are not factors.
“We embrace differences,” Gunshows said. “Big, little, it doesn’t matter. Can you think of another sport where being big is an advantage?
So, why do we like women’s roller derby?
“It is exercise, camaraderie, and fun,” Gunshows said. “This is women on wheels. It’s sexy!”
Come on out and find your own reasons.