It should come as no surprise that Brooklyn has a roller derby team. Rather, it’s the way roller derby is conducted in Brooklyn and throughout the Gotham Girls Roller Derby league that stands out. It’s not the face-smashing, short short-dominated sport it used to be, and even the briefest meeting with our own Brooklyn Bombshells proves how much the game has changed. We spoke with three members of the team—ShadowboxHer, Miss Tea Maven and Fizzy Lola—to discuss modern roller derby ahead of their bout versus the Manhattan Mayhem this Saturday, July 19.
How did you all get into roller derby?
ShadowboxHer: I’ve played sports my entire life. Usually, high contact, intense sports. And after college, I just didn’t really have that forum anymore and I just felt something missing in my life and so, I had seen a bout up in SUNY Albany where I went for undergrad and I came back downstate and I’m like, “Okay, I need to keep doing this. That looks amazing. I need to get involved.”
Fizzy Lola: I was lucky that when I found out that I wanted to do roller derby, Gotham Girls Roller Derby was doing a recreational league and it was the first organized rec league that they were doing and I signed up. I did that for six weeks and then I just wanted to skate more, so I tried out with another league and I made that league. That following year, I tried out for Gotham and I went through the whole process of the tryouts and then got drafted to the the BB.
Miss Tea Maven: In the beginning, I was a renegade skate [and] I was learning how to skate. In renegade, there’s no rules so you can pretty much punch, kick, bite, fight. It really helped introduce me to the sport of roller derby in general and to realize how competitive I wanted to be with it. Then, when I moved to New York City, I found the Gotham Girls and I tried out. I got cut on the very first day. The next year, I tried out for Gotham [after a year skating on Long Island] and then I got put on the Bombshells.
Does roller derby attract a certain kind of woman?
FL: I think in the early days, it attracted a certain kind of misfit. Someone who was never able to do a proper sport. I feel like it attracted the people that didn’t do sports growing up and didn’t have that social outlet.
SBH: You would think that the stereotypical woman would be this large woman, tattooed and pierced everywhere, and yes, some of us look like that, but also, a lot of us don’t. You can find women here who are tattoo artists and things like that, work at skate shops and then I’m a teacher. There are nurses, engineers, lawyers. You have every single type of woman you could ever think of and that is personality-wise, social-wise, body type.
What do you have to do to get up to scratch to be a great competitor?
FL: Your endurance, your physical strength, muscle strength. One of the hardest things for me, and those coming from no athletic background, is the mental part. It’s getting mentally prepared for competition that’s the hardest. I’m still constantly struggling with getting to that mental state of being competitive. And the muscles! Definitely the muscles!
SBH: You have to have a certain amount of athleticism about you and time and energy and ability to be a skater.
MTM: People have a lot of knee problems because there’s a lot of stopping with your knee and you’re torquing your foot in the wrong direction. The plow stop and you have to go up and down. You fall on your knees all the time. It’s a lot of pressure with your knees, your back. It’s really tiring.
But what about if you are not athletic at all and want to participate?
SBH: There are skating referees. We need seven referees per bout. Then, we have non-skating officials, we need like ten of those for a bout. So, if you have zero athleticism or zero desire to be on skates, you can be an NSO and it’s really cool because you’re still an integral part of the roller derby game. We need tons of volunteers to help out, sell merchandise. We have jeerleaders. There’s a spot for anyone and everyone regardless of what your ability or desires are.
Miss Tea Maven, you play one of the most well-known positions: the jammer. You’re in charge of scoring by lapping your opponents. What’s that like?
MTM: It’s a lot of fun. I like to say it’s the position with the highest risk, highest reward because it feels so amazing to get out of a tough pack and just be out and be lead. It’s just like, “Yes, fucking got out!” But then, if you’re stuck behind and you keep getting recycled, meaning you’re almost out but then they drag you back in, it is so soulcrushing. We use that term. We say, “We want to soul crush the jammer.”
How has the level of competition changed?
MTM: In general, teams have been getting better. They’re more serious about it. Back in the day, Gotham was like, “Let’s skate and then afterwards, we’ll go drink,” and now it’s like, “Let’s skate and now let’s drink our protein shakes. Let’s go work out and do crossfit.” It’s so much more athletic than way back in the day. Especially with the [Blood & Thunder Roller Derby] World Cup.
Yeah, there’s a roller derby World Cup now! (Team USA is currently the reigning champion.) And yet, there are still misconceptions. What are the most common ones you hear?
SBH: That we’re just aggressive. And that’s kind of what the game used to be, it really did revolve around these giant hits. But it has transformed itself into this incredibly intricate, strategic sport. And it’s taken off. It’s still high intensity and you’ll see these amazing hits that will bring a six-foot girl to her knees, but it’s not about that anymore. It’s more about the actual game and the strategy behind it.
FL: We’re very athletic, there’s a lot of training involved, a lot of rules, a lot of things to protect everybody from getting hurt or to help lower the injury rates.
MTM: This is a way of life and we give a lot of time and blood, sweat and tears into this sport. Especially when they say, “This is a cute hobby.” I’m like, “It’s not a hobby. It’s a way of life, man.” And eventually, I’ll settle down and I’ll have a kid and I’ll retire like everybody else, but not soon.
To learn more about the Gotham Girls Roller Derby League, visit the organization online at www.gothamgirlsrollerderby.com. The Brooklyn Bombshells will face off against the Manhattan Mayhem at Abe Stark Arena (1902 W. 19th St. nr. Surf Ave.) at 5 pm on Saturday, July 19. Purchase tickets here.
Follow Nikita Richardson on Twitter @nikitarbk