by Natalie Sabia (New York City)
Rough. Competitive. Supportive. Thrilling. These are all just a few words that describe women’s roller derby. Anya, aka “Hard Anya,” is one of the toughest and most dedicated women on the Gotham Girls Roller Derby team. Hard Anya, which is her skate name, works full time in web development for a tech company; design’s the website for Gotham Girls and serves on the advisory board. “It’s a serious organization, not just a hobby,” said Anya.
Gotham Girls Roller Derby is a not-for-profit organization, which is operated by the skater women. Gotham Girls is New York City’s only all-female roller derby league, which is composed by strong and independent women. “It’s a great network of people both professionally and socially,” said Anya.
The WFTDA (Women’s Flat Track Derby Association), which was founded in 2004 is the governing body for roller derby. They are responsible for setting rules, as well as the standards for the league. Roller derby season runs from March to November and there is a draft system where each league will host try-outs.
Skating for the “Brooklyn Bombshells” for two years, Anya is considered one of the veterans on the team. She began competing in roller derby back in 2004 while she was in graduate school in Arizona. “A friend told me about roller derby and so I went with her to a practice,” said Anya. “As soon as I saw what it was about, I immediately knew I wanted to be involved.”
After trying out and making the team, Anya was hooked. Two years later, she moved to New York City and wanted to stay involved with roller derby so she transferred to Gotham Girls. She was considered an asset to the Gotham Girls League because of her experience in Arizona. Gotham Girls has a total four teams in New York and one National Team, “Gotham Girl All stars.” “In New York, the women are very tough, but they are extremely professional,” said Anya.
Shortly after Anya got on board with Gotham Girls, she landed a job through another skater on her team. “It was a great way for me to get my foot in the door in my industry,” said Anya. The Brooklyn Bombshell credits roller derby for learning different job roles that she wouldn’t have exposure to in her day job, along with gaining confidence while leading a team. “It’s a building ground for confidence & decision making,” said Anya. “I now have a different set of management skills.”
“Loco Chanel,” whose real name is Emily, read an article about roller derby and was immediately terrified at the thought. Although she was nervous, she was also so curious that it lead her to stop by a practice. “One day I showed up at practice and never looked back,” said Emily. “I felt like that could be so much fun.”
One of the appeals for Emily was the rivalry involved. After business school, Emily began traveling a lot and was reading about a roller derby league in Texas. She was intrigued at the competitive rivalry that comes along with the sport. “I like being on a team sport,” said Emily. “It’s also fun to skate.”
Loco Chanel started playing roller derby in 2005 and two years later joined the Windy City “Hell’s Belles” in Chicago, which she is currently apart of now. Windy City, which is in their 5th season, is a founding member of the WFTDA regulations; they have four home teams, and an all star team. As one of the more veteran players in the league, she was involved in building structure and policy for Windy City. “Roller derby has a lot of flare, attitude, and personality,” said Emily. “It forces me to use a different part of my brain.”
Balancing her full time job as an economist and her role as a teammate can be tough. Some days she’ll bring work home to do at night and even as it gets challenging, Emily figures out a way to make it work. Although she dedicated a lot of time and energy to practicing and scrimmaging, Emily likes having goals to work towards and takes the game very seriously. “I like the idea of training with a purpose,” said Emily. “It’s satisfying to be involved in a contact sport.”
In a lot of ways as Emily started skating, she got more competitive, which made her more assertive and confident within her job. Being apart of a roller derby team takes a lot of practice and hard work, but it also takes a competitive attitude to win a game. “My team is fantastic,” said Emily. “They are competitive, supportive and it’s all about winning a trophy.”
In roller derby the so called matches are known as “bouts.” Each bout consists of 2 periods, which are 30 minutes each. 5 women per team are on the track one time, which includes 4 blockers and 1 jammer. One jam can last up to two minutes and the “jammer” is the one who scores the points. One point is scored every time the jammer gets past the pack. Each jam takes place on an oval track and is thoughtfully constructed strategy all to get jammer past the pack.
Jeanice, aka “Hyper Lynx,” who competes for the “Queens of Pain” for Gotham Girls, came from a background of martial arts so she was looking for a contact sport. After reading an article in the paper back in 2005, Jeanice was so intrigued she showed up at a practice. “I was interested in how serious it was,” said Jeanice.
While working full time for an internet company, Jeanice practices 3-4 days per week for 2-3 hours. She describes roller derby as a pleasant balance between social life and professional life. “It brings people together who you wouldn’t have met otherwise,” said Jeanice. “It gives me something else to look forward too.”
“There are a lot of people who put in a lot of time to craft this organization,” said Jeanice. “It’s a great way to meet friends and we all do a lot of activities together.” “It’s shaped so many aspects of my life,” said Anya.
And what about those of us who are not quite ready to lace up the skates, strap on those pads and try your hands at roller derby? Do we have to miss out? “It’s really fun to watch,” said Emily. “Everyone should take a day and check it out.”