“Don’t use the heat as a crutch,” Geneva Conviction says, balanced on her elbows and toes in plank position on the edge of the track. “Heat stroke. Heat exhaustion. They’re very serious. They’re not fun. But still push yourself. Know your body. Is your competition working harder than you?”
There’s no way these skaters are going to allow that. They’ve been on a two-week break, the playoffs are coming and they’re not likely to give in. Never mind the 111-degree heat wafting through the open doors, blending with whatever breeze the swamp cooler kicks out. This group isn’t the type to complain. It’s just a little sweat, after all—much like a tender black and blue mark from the blunt trauma of an on-track collision is just a little bruise.
Skating with the Fabulous Sin City Rollergirls isn’t for timid souls. They practice three or four times weekly and adhere to their own off-skate workouts—checking in with one another to ensure everyone is keeping up, staying fit, preparing for anything. They have to. As one Rollergirl says, “It’s like playing chess on skates while having bricks thrown at you.”
And so after an hour of drills—including jammers and blockers, pushing against each other like elk battling for dominance—followed by 27 laps in five minutes, we plank.
“You got it, girl. Just push through it,” Amie “Geneva Conviction” Tillery says to one of her skaters.
“We’re not right in the head,” admits Andrea “Lisa Carr” Ruggles. “Eight hours a week, we put skates on and hit each other. ... The first time you really lay someone out, you feel like a superhero and a rock star at the same time.”
Contact—and team bonding—seems to be the draw here at the Fab Lab rink at Lamb and Cheyenne.
Katie “The Force” Claessens played soccer, football and coed hockey before taking on roller derby in 2006. “I can’t find any feeling in any one of those sports that I feel in this game,” she says. “In coed, the guys don’t want to hurt a girl or be shown up by a girl. I like to be able to play in a sport where someone is going to hit you as hard as they can, and you can hit them as hard as you can and nobody’s going to get hurt feelings.”
Smiling, she adds, “I’m a very alpha personality, so I’m okay with it.”
The Sin City Rollergirls league is increasingly competitive since it was sanctioned in 2005. As of April, it sits at No. 45 out of 155 ranked leagues in the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. The Rollergirls’ All-Stars traveling team heads to its first playoff tournament in Des Moines, Iowa, in August as the No. 1 seed in one of two Division 2 tournaments.
All-Stars skaters are drawn from the four local themed home teams: The Flying Aces (a nod to Nevada “classified” aviation); Hoover Damned (a zombie-inspired team with the motto “What’s black and red and smells like rotting flesh?”); The Notorious VIP (reflects that glamour of Las Vegas’ high-roller nightlife), and the Tommy Gun Terrors (named for the city’s mobster history). While members of The Notorious VIP arrive at each bout with perfect manicures, makeup and styled hair, the Hoover Damned hit the track covered in fake blood.
“Our standard rollout is a slow roll,” says Elizabeth "Warren Peace" Bristow, captain of the Damned.
The league’s jargon includes phrases unique to the game: “the soul crusher,” “eating the baby” and “jumping the apex.” A “’giner shiner,” happens when you land a particularly tender body part on your skate.
Home teams battle monthly at the Sports Center of Las Vegas (the next doubleheader is July 21). Newcomers learn to fall and take a hit at Fresh Meat camp. Many were rink rats or athletes from other sports. One is a former speed skater. Unlike NFL blockers, none are beefy bruisers. They’re fit, but take off the helmets, pads and quad skates and you’d never guess what they do on wheels.
Carr started in 2009 as part of a new year’s resolution that also included performing improv comedy. “Roller derby stuck,” she says.
As Bristow and I watch the end-of-evening scrimmage and talk about her history in sports and how much she loves her team, a player falls, then drags herself off the track. Someone goes to get an ice pack. Jammer Mallorie “Dixie Dash” Sommers breaks through the blockers and races around the track, unleashed, flying at full speed. It’s glorious and exhilarating. And suddenly, all that sacrifice seems worth it.
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