The Women Behind the Skates

By on December 1, 2011

Local Roller Derby—Mason Dixon Roller Vixens & Key City Roller Derby

By Rachael Schankle
Photos by Bill Millios

Flat-track roller derby—how cool is that? It’s a cult phenomenon—or a sport—that has been sweeping the U.S. for almost a decade now. And it’s inspiring to see women play, such as those on the Mason-Dixon Roller Vixens.

And when it was time to don my own skates and derby gear, I thought, “what have I gotten myself into?”
 There was fear, and a thought, No way I can do that, rolling around in my head, even though I had grown up playing contact sports most of my life—and really enjoyed them. Regardless, I was still scared of roller derby.

But after meeting the Mason Dixon Roller Vixens and those in Frederick’s newly formed Key City Roller Derby league, I found out I wasn’t alone. In fact most of the women who come out to play felt the same—in the beginning.

“Sometimes you just have to do things that you don’t think you can do, and you have to do things that you’re afraid to do,” says one soon-to-be Roller Vixen.

By my account, she’s absolutely right. But roller derby is an amazing outlet for these women, though, as I learned, it’s a sport that not only affects the players, but all involved—from the players’ friends and families to the spectators, and others.

“I think people typically have an image of roller derby girls being super rough,” says Paul McAllister, a dentist who owns Smile Design Center in Hagerstown. “You know, aggressive, rough around the edges people—maybe fun to watch but you wouldn’t want to be around them if they’re not on the track.

Well, these ladies absolutely break all of the molds, they are classy women, and they are the type of people that watch each other’s backs—always.”

“Is that why you became a sponsor?” I ask.

“Absolutely. It inspired me to go crazy and put on pads and skates,” McAllister responds. “Part of it is wanting to participate, and being supportive of them. They’re incredible women who are in all walks of life, and it’s hard for me to think of a group of ladies that I would ever want to be associated with more than them. They’re pretty amazing.” McAllister and his dental practice are local sponsors for both the Roller Vixens and the Key City Roller Derby.

After meeting many of these ladies, I completely agreed with McAllister, and was fascinated to learn what brought them to roller derby—and why they stay involved.

Many of the women, it seems, came to join roller derby after seeing a bout, and thinking, that would be cool and so much fun. I want to be a roller girl. They may have also gone through a difficult personal time in their life or dealt with a loss. The game gives them an outlet. Whatever their reasons for joining, however, it’s the lasting bonds, they say, that keep them coming back and pushing them forward. 

Liz Dexic is co-captain of the Roller Vixens, and a noteworthy, highly aggressive person—at least in the rink. She’s actually an original Vixen from when the team first formed in 2007.

“It’s a good outlet and it’s really weird because you form these bonds with people that you probably would not be friends with otherwise,” Dexic says. “And then it turns into you not having a lot of friends outside of derby anymore because all of your best friends are here.”

Some of the women on the team are referred to as fresh meat, meaning they’re new to derby. Fresh meat have a training period that can be as short as three months or as long as necessary—or until they are comfortably skilled in almost 40 areas of play.

There’s also the term “25-in-5.” This means a player must be able to do 25 laps around the flat-track in five minutes. Yes, this is possible, if you remember that anyone can do pretty much anything, when they have a team of women cheering them on, as derby blood-sisters do.

One fresh meat, named Larissa, has only been to two practices. But she says she’s glad she came back after the first practice. It’s a resolve that takes dedication because Larissa drives more than an hour to play, and doesn’t have any skating experience.

I could relate. I found a similar attraction to the sport, likely because of its welcoming atmosphere, which is just what the derby sisters want you to feel. The intimidation that I felt when I first walked into practice was basically gone after I met and spoke with these women. .

I learned that roller derby women are mothers, teachers, nurses, scientists, mental health professionals, piercers, radio deejays, restaurant managers, insurance salespersons, veterinarian technicians, and sky-diving instructors, to name a few. And in addition to the wide variety of occupations, these women also range widely in age. The youngest is 18 years old and the oldest is almost 50. And much to my surprise, I learned that most of these women were not previously athletes—and they didn’t grow up playing on any teams. All shapes and sizes are welcome, too.

“Small accomplishments are the things that will keep bringing them back,” says Rafael Guevara, a Key City coach, who is also known as Sin Diesel. “But it’s also the stuff that’s going to stay with them the longest. [The accomplishments are] what makes them talk to their friends and say, ‘Hey you gotta come try this thing out; it’s a whole different beast.’ There’s nothing more rewarding than to watch somebody who couldn’t do something, and then watch them leave here and be like, ‘I can’t believe I can do that.’ This sport helps heal. It was Chicken Soup for the Soul in the 90s, and now it’s roller derby.”

So, I had to ask, “What do you love about the game?”

But just about everyone says, “What don’t I love about it?!”

By the way, I ended up having a blast on skates with these women, and am now thinking about attending another practice.

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