Women skate to empowerment, pride in roller derby
By RIVES KUHAR
Her name is Monster.
Or, at least, that’s what they call her at the roller derby track. The title is delicately tattooed two inches above her belly button in black, script letters and it’s mimicked in the homemade, clay monster teeth sticking up like needles from the shoulder pads of her denim jacket.
It started with a finger. While coaching gymnastics two years ago, a freak accident on the high bar led Kristin Tschirn’s wedding band to slice her finger off at her knuckle, leaving a skeleton finger until doctors removed the leftover bone.
With half of her ring finger missing, her friends coined the nickname, “Monster.”
“Up until that time I felt being pretty was what you’re supposed to do. I didn’t feel pretty anymore,” Monster said shyly. “As cool as I thought scars were, I didn’t think I was supposed to have them.”
But, when a flyer advertising roller derby found its way onto the door of her husband’s tattoo shop, “Monster” became a new kind of name.
Twenty fluorescent light bulbs illuminate the inside of Fredericksburg Armory, home to the Five 40 Roller Girls, Fredericksburg’s only women’s flat track roller derby team.
The New York Times calls roller derby more sophisticated and complicated than roller-skating. Throughout the past decade, roller derby has won the attention of women across the globe. More than 300 flat-track leagues are home to more than 15,000 skaters worldwide.
In purple fishnets, striped “Betty Boop” socks and miniskirts, stay-at-home mothers and businesswomen entangle fierce sexuality and violence between the red and black rope of the homemade derby track that’s routinely set up every Tuesday and Thursday.
“I feel powerful,” Monster said lightly. “This monster is an 800 pound gorilla.”
But on the track, Monster is weightless, swiftly and unapologetically crossing one leg in front of the other just as good jammers ought to.
“Jammers” are derby girls who score points by passing opposing skaters, but each team is allowed only one on the track.
The four “Blockers” on each team bunch together and either block opposing jammers or clear the path for their teams’ jammers by shoving the opponents into the walls or onto the ground. For each opposing skater passed, the jammer earns one point for her team; average scores for derby “bouts,” or games, range from 50 to 100 points.
Backpacks and bags overflowing with wrist pads, kneepads, mouth guards and lipstick line the walls of the gym. Music, ruckus, laughter and conversations fill the air.
“I feel like I could go out and drink and get in a fight,” said Gena Womack, a teacher, while showing off her new hot pink mouth guard. “I think I’m gonna dye my hair red,” she yelled soon after.
“There’s no stereotypical roller girl,” noted Amber Fua, junior English major at the University of Mary Washington. Fua is one of the newest and, at 21-years-old, youngest members of the team.
To each Five 40 roller girl, roller derby is a way to escape.
“Regardless of age or gender, we all get wrapped up in the stresses of our lives and we need to find that something that allows us to completely clear our heads and focus that energy in a positive way,” noted Destinee Winslow, also know as C*NTree Jam, head coach of the Five 40 team. “Roller derby happens to be that thing for me.”
As an enlisted member of the coast guard and mother of two, Winslow won’t let the chaos of her 18-hour days get in the way of her love for derby- even continuing to skate while six months pregnant with a baby girl.
“I’m gonna have to skate her in my arms around all the time just to get her to sleep,” said Winslow, smiling.
Unlike other derby girls, Monster is always Monster. Her falls may be hard, but her voice is airy and sweet. She may enjoy the pushes and shoves from opponents, but her intentions are loveable. When she lost her finger, her first thought wasn’t about her image; that came later. It was about her pregnancy.
“I thought, ‘baby’s fine,’ nothing else matters.”
Fua, or Amberantula, notes that stereotypically, most roller derby observers are shocked to find that these women simultaneously live other, more conservative lives. The real surprise, in fact, is the wide array of backgrounds derby women have. Derby women are mothers, doctors, lawyers, nurses and financial managers. And they’re strong.
After two drug-free homebirths and the loss of a finger, bruises are the last things to bother Monster.
Even Fua had a different past than most and gives derby the credit for the newfound security in her life.
Raised in the same orphanage that her mother grew up in, Fua was eight years old when she moved back in with her mother and new stepfather. During her middle school and high school years, Fua moved seven times. But, at the age of 16, she moved in with her biological father after her mother’s attempted suicide.
A script tattoo of the word “strength” sits along the inside of her wrist
“I could get this tattoo all the way up and down my arm, but I don’t think it would’ve resonated as much if I hadn’t started roller derby,” Fua said.
With fierce names like Pistol and Pantyhose, it’s hard for these women with killer curves not to feel commanding during their practices and weekend bouts.
“When I think of roller derby, I think women empowerment. Men have so many things, women get to claim this,” Winslow said proudly.