Durango Roller Girls: Full-contact and blood on the flat track

by Patty Templeton

Rink rash, busted bones, thigh-wide bruises, wipeouts, and illegal elbows to the eye – they ain’t uncommon in roller derby. But, hey, at least that Can Opener didn’t cave in your throat.

Don’t know a damn thing about roller derby? No worries.

The rundown: Two teams circle a track. Each has a jammer. The jammer is the scoring player whose sole purpose is to get points by out-lapping the other team. The rest of the team whams and slams people out of the jammer’s way. There are two 30-minute periods that are made of jams. A jam can last up to two minutes. Usually, players can be found in fishnets, scuffed helmets, and epic make-up. It’s a bunch of wheeled warriors participating in disciplined discord with gloriously gratuitous showmanship.

Hometown heroes, the Durango Roller Girls, will battle Flagstaff’s H.A.R.D. Starlets during a home bout at 7 p.m. on Saturday, July 15, at Chapman Hill Rink, 500 Florida Road. DGO talked to the Durango Roller Girls about the local flat-track scene and why roller derby is effing awesome.

Is roller derby an all-out bloody sport?

Teisha “Molly NoMo” Rasmussen: Modern derby has moved away from a lot of the hardness of the old-style ’70s derby. We are more regulated. We keep track of penalties now. I’ve seen pictures of old derby where there are arms flying out to clothesline people and elbows to the throat. Those are hard penalties in modern derby.

What’s the bloodiest moment you’ve seen in a bout?

Rasmussen: In our last bout, there were a couple of high blocks.

Is that a hit to the face?

Rasmussen: A high block is anything above your clavicle.

One of our skaters, someone caught her where her mouth guard met her lips, jammed it hard, and she was bleeding all over the track. Things like that happen. It’s organized chaos out there.

Shannon “Sock It To Me” Cramer: It’s definitely a quick sport to watch. There’s a lot going on at one time. It looks a lot like chaos, but there are a lot of rules and regulations going on, which is why there are so many refs at one time.

Is roller derby still as DIY as it used to be?

Rasmussen: It is skater-run and skater-owned and we don’t really have any outside help. It’s in-house.

Cramer: It’s really cool. WFTDA (Women’s Flat Track Derby Association) is all skater-run. It’s our governing body. They supply the rules we follow. Teams don’t have to be a part of it, but a lot are.

Is the history of roller derby female?

Cramer: From what I found, modern derby has roots in World War II. Men went off to war and women were like, “Cool, what do I do now? How do I get all this angst out?” And they did roller derby.

It fell off in the ’60s and ’70s and then a group of women in Texas picked it back up and started the modern-day derby.

Are men in the sport?

Rasmussen: There are separate men’s roller derby leagues. It’s called the MRDA, the Men’s Roller Derby Association. I think they also follow the WFTDA rule set.

Why not mix the associations?

Rasmussen: A lot of WFTDA leagues like how this is a space for women. Unfortunately, in this world, there’s not a lot of spaces for women to be like, “I’m here. I’m doing something badass, rough, and tough, and I wear really short shorts when I do it but don’t have to worry about being ogled. This is my space.”

How long is a bout?

Rasmussen: About an hour, maybe a little more. There’s two 30-minute periods with about a 10- to 15-minute halftime. There’s a few pauses for timeouts or official review, but they aren’t that long.

Can people drink?

Rasmussen: Yes. Ska has been a sponsor of ours, I believe, ever since the league came about. We always have Ska beer and it’s a great time.

How many bouts in a season?

Rasmussen: We have four home bouts. We’ve had two away bouts. Six is usually an average amount to play.

What do you love about roller derby?

Rasmussen: It’s a really good outlet. I’m a stay-at-home mom. I have two boys and my husband and – outside of derby, I’m surrounded by boys all the time.

It’s also so awesome to be around other women who are badass and amazing, and derby is for everybody. We all come from different walks of life and do different day jobs and some of us aren’t the same body type. We have tall girls and shorter girls and we come together and we can all play this game no matter how different we are outside of it.

Cramer: Yeah, I grew up playing team sports. I stopped playing in college. I got out here and wanted to play something. I had been doing soccer for so long. I wanted to meet a group of women and I really like that. Like Teisha said, you get to meet people of all shapes and sizes and all walks of life that aren’t in your typical circle. It’s really cool to play a sport that you don’t just see clones of one another. Everyone’s into different things.

It’s a sport where you get to take out your anger in a controlled setting. It’s not a free-for-all. There’s rules. There’s skill.

How long have you been doing it?

Rasmussen: Three years.

Cramer: I’ve only been playing since April, so I’m new new. They call us “freshies.” I haven’t been on skates since I was 8. I put on my skates and just waddled around. It takes time to find your footing.

Is there anything that scares you about being so new to the sport?

Cramer: I don’t think I’ll be scared until I get into my first game. There’s chaos in practice, but you can step out. When you’re in the middle of a game, there is no pause until someone calls it off. I’ve seen someone get trucked or tanked and taken out and that scares me a little.

Roller Derby is a pretty next-level sport. What kind of folks play it?

Cramer: I feel like I see a lot of women looking for camaraderie without cattiness. It’s a sport they can play where you can hit someone and then five minutes later say, “Hey, you wanna go get a drink?” and still be best friends afterwards. I feel like you can’t get that in a lot of groups or sports.

Are there warnings given to new players?

Cramer: When you first start, you’re warned that this is a rough sport. You’re going to hit your teammates. You’re going to get hit. At the end of the day, you leave all of it at the rink and are still friends.

I think a common trait about people willing to play roller derby is that they are so hardcore they could survive an apocalypse. [laughs]

Cramer: As long as it’s not zombies.

If it’s slow zombies, you’re totally fine.

Rasmussen: Remember, they don’t like fast food. [laughs]

Back to the brutality. Do people take it personal when they get hit hard?

Rasmussen: I was countering a hit and I dead-legged one of my teammates

What is dead-legged?

Cramer: Where you get hit so hard you can’t feel your leg anymore.

Rasmussen: I love this woman I dead-legged. She’s one of my favorite people and I was like, “I’m so sorry!” and she comes up and was like, “That was a good hit!”

Another time, we were practicing sternum hits and this girl rammed me super hard (grabs her throat) and it took me a minute to catch my breath. I was like, “It hurts so bad (wheeze) but I’m so proud of you!” [Everyone laughs.]

Cramer: People get hurt in games and (in) practice all the time. There’s a disclaimer when you first join that that might happen. It’s not personal.

Do you think roller derby is taken as seriously as it should be?

Rasmussen: I think people who haven’t really taken the time to watch what we can do out there might not take it as serious. I’ve seen a lot of negative comments online.

What do people say?

Rasmussen: They say awful things like, “Those crazy lesbos who play roller derby.” There’s this misconception that you have to be mean or a lesbian or psychotic to play this game. And that’s not it at all.

What else do you want people to know?

Cramer: Don’t be scared of us. I feel like every time I talk about derby to one of my friends, they say, “That sounds really scary.” But don’t be afraid to come talk to us, to come put on skates. I definitely think people get this irrational fear that the first thing we’ll do after they put on skates is tackle them. Which is not true at all. Someone will hold your hand and walk you around the track, if that’s what it takes to get you to put on skates. Just come and meet us and talk to us if you ever wanted to do anything like this.

Women can still join your team even though the season’s started?

Cramer: Year-round.

To learn more about the hooligans and hella supportive community of roller derby, check out the Durango Rollers Girls at www.durangorollergirls.com.This interview has been edited and condensed for clarityPatty TempletonDGO Staff Writer


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