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Culture Couch is WYSO's occasional series exploring the arts and culture scene in our community. It’s stories about creativity – told through creative audio storytelling.

Lessons From Gem City Roller Derby On How To Fall, Get Picked Back Up

Gem City Roller Derby teams Snark Attack and Murder Squad in a pack at the last bout of the year.
Jonny No
Gem City Roller Derby teams Snark Attack and Murder Squad in a pack at the last bout of the year.

Roller derby is not for the faint of heart. It’s a contact sport—players  shove, throw elbows and fall. Here in the Miami Valley the Gem City Roller Derby league holds games all year round. Community Voices producer Hideo Higashibaba went to one and met a player who uses lessons from derby in her life.

Roller derby games are called bouts and this one at the Orbit Fun Center in Dayton is the last of the year. Players strap on their skates, helmets, elbow pads, knee pads and mouth guards and warm up. There are about 50 fans of all ages as the announcer introduces the teams.

Tonight Snark Attack in blue is playing Murder Squad in red. The names are a big part of roller derby. The players have names like Heartless Glitch, Lady Deathlock and Miss Demeanor, and like in most derby leagues they are all women.

"I mean society teaches women to be you know meek and mild, you have to delicate you have someone take care of you, well that’s a bunch of baloney," says Blitzkrieg Becks who plays for Snark Attack. "I can be as tough if not tougher any football player player out there and I got roller skates on my feet."

Murder Squad’s jammer (with the star on her helmet) trying to get past the pack to score.
Credit Jonny No
Murder Squad’s jammer (with the star on her helmet) trying to get past the pack to score.

Here are the basics of roller derby: it’s played on a flat, oval track and in two minute periods. Four players from each team called blockers form what’s known as a pack. Their job is to keep another player from the other team called a jammer from getting past and scoring. They’ll form a  wall with their bodies, shove, elbow, push—it looks like controlled, fast, wrestling with ten people on roller skates.

Team Snark Attack takes the lead in the beginning, but ten minutes into the first half Murder Squad has caught up. It’s 20/21 Murder Squad.

Blitzkrieg Becks has been doing derby for about a year, and it’s been a tough one. She’s in the process of getting a divorce, and just moved to Ohio where she didn’t know anyone. It’s hard not to just stay home.

"But derby’s kind of scooped me up and said, stop that nonsense!," she says. "And it increases my self-esteem at very least and when I’m kind of floundering a little bit there’s someone there to remind me like, hey, you do roller derby, you’re pretty awesome and pretty tough, don’t let this one little thing drag you down but if it does we’ll pick you back up, because that’s the first thing they teach you in derby is how to fall."

I caught up with Becks at halftime; she had taken a lot spills on the track, but, "Actually with the pads you don’t feel them at all. With the adrenaline and everything and usually, they’ll pick you back up."

Learning how to fall, getting picked up by your friends, that’s what’s important here. And so is playing tough.

"I’m hitting some of my best friends out there, but they’re hitting me right back," says Becks. "You know, it’s kind of that saying I’m strong and you’re strong and I know you deal with this so I’m going like hip check you and watch you eat if for a minute but then I’m going to make sure you’re okay and then you’re going to get back up probably do the same thing to me."

Snark Attack (in blue) fending off the jammer in the pack.
Credit Jonny No
Snark Attack (in blue) fending off the jammer in the pack.

In the end, Murder Squad came out ahead, 161 to 112. In the last two minutes, Becks went down hard and had to crawl off the rink to get checked by the EMTs.

"I rolled a little bit, kind of crawling but it was more my pride that was hurt more. But you know, I made an awesome exit with my little Barbie wave of sorts like a celebrity ‘cause why not? That’s what roller derby is all about, a show." 

Especially for the fans. But for the people who play, it’s much more.

"When I came here I was in a very dark place, doing this divorce," says Becks. "I’m still doing this divorce thing and seeing that I can still progress if all else is crumbling around me. Look at a you know, like half the people are falling down, banging into each other and there’s always somebody to get through. And right now I’m, I used to say I’m surviving and now I’m doing more than surviving I’m kind of swimming."

The Gem City Roller Derby will hold open recruitment sessions twice a week in January. You can find out more about how to join or watch a bout at http://www.gemcityrollerderby.com