I remember going to the roller derby warehouse with the massive banked track for the first time, thinking the sport would offer the same spectacular fakeness of pro wrestling.
L.A. Derby Dolls skaters have real training. Real bruises, sprains and breaks. Because roller derby, it turns out, is a real and intense sport. I fell for it as hard as a derby skater tumbling from a vicious block.
A derby game consists of a series of jams, in which a “jammer” for each team tries to lap the blockers of the opposing team. Each blocker the jammer passes scores a team point. Gettin’ it?
Game nights blend sport with band performances, food trucks and opportunities for hipster watching. I am not a hipster. I am a middle-aged woman who would look disingenuous if I drank the PBR served at events.
So why my fandom? The Derby Dolls remind me of the joy that comes from competing on an all-women’s team, where toughness, loyalty and a shared purpose gave me a sense of belonging.
Another part of the attraction? The Derby Dolls are an awesomely female invention. Women revived the modern roller derby, circa 2000. It’s one of the few sports women defined in the current version.
All skaters hold day jobs as teachers, nurses, mothers and other important roles. That’s what makes their derby superhero personalities relatable.
“I get called ‘Vodka’ walking down the street,” says Vodka Toxic, who skates for the Varsity Brawlers. “I could be in a grocery store and if I hear ‘vodka,’ I turn around.” Off the track, Vodka Toxic is a marketing exec named Edie Lundeen.
Operating the league requires epic coordination across a complex committee structure. The league runs training programs, and 100 girls also skate in a junior version of the league. Because, really, isn’t it fun to brag to grating soccer parents that you’re a roller derby parent?
As sometimes happens, over time I began taking my relationship with the roller derby somewhat for granted. It’s fine, I told myself, there’s always a game. Until there wasn’t.
The L.A. Derby Dolls have spent much of this year on extended hiatus, dealing with thorny warehouse permitting issues. For now, the Dolls squeeze in games on rented flat tracks. It’s not really the same. I long for the nights when I can return to the bleachers at the Dollosseum for the Derby Dolls’ rambunctious action.