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Derby girls don’t cry: The aggressive face of women on the skate track

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Junior Meg Kapousouz, aka “Meg Mayday,” skates past a Rose City Roller, who falls to the ground after a failed tackle at Kapousouz.

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Junior Meg Kapousouz celebrates her team’s victory in last Saturday’s Rust Riot Tournament.

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“Rolla Reina” of the Rose City Rollers poses after knocking down a Lava City skater. The Rose City Rollers faced the Rat City Rollergirls in the final match at the Rust Riot Tournament last Saturday.

Blood-thirsty, cheering and drunken yelling echoes toward the rafters and bounces off the walls of Hangar 30, as the cloud-obscured sun retreats into night through the highpaned windows.

At the center of all the revelry the Oly Rollers are battling Rat City and the intercity antagonism between Olympia and Seattle is beginning to show itself.

Each circuit around the track builds intensity and raises noise another decibel or so. The winner of this semifinal match will make it to the finals.

But that is too far in the future to even consider. Right now, if you’re a Rat City racer you just need to get to a comfortable lead to put the Oly Rollers in their place.

If you’re an Oly Roller, surmounting this roller skating Goliath is now the sum total of every breath you’ve ever inhaled and the culmination of all the nights of practice and bruised thighs and sprained ankles you’ve endured.

“Five blockers!” a woman in head-to-toe Rat City gear screams from the bleachers.

“How is that legal?” she yells, reacting to a cumbersome move by an Oly Roller skater that flattened a skater from Rat City.

Her partner looks around slightly embarrassed and whispers something in her ear.

“Duh!” she replies, with the exasperated tone of an annoyed teenager though she’s well into her 30s.

Meanwhile, down by the front of the rink, a man who has fallen over himself twice is now being carried out by the security detail working the event; a group of friends trail behind, some laughing while others look worried.

Shots of Jager have been $5 all day.

After a series of successful jams by Rat City, they have a comfortable double-digit lead over the Oly Rollers. By the end of the match, second-seed Rat City defeats third-seed Oly Rollers 80-66.

Junior Meg Kapousouz, Rat City Rollergirl “Meg Mayday” by night and weekends, scored 18 points as a jammer in the semifinal bout against the Oly Rollers.

“The team record is like 21 or 22 points so that’s pretty good,” Myday said.

A rollerskater all her life, she said other girls laughed at her when she tried out in jeans and street skates. She manages her time between being a full-time student, working in a lab and practicing four nights each week with Rat City.

“There’s a real unity between the women on the team. It is important to be with strong, like-minded women,” she said.

This is a sentiment all the women share, one that is exemplified in almost every aspect of this year’s Rust Riot.

Teams across the Northwest from distant places like Boise, Idaho and Spokane to the east and Bend, Or. to the south, and from not-so-distant places like Everett and Olympia, have gathered in sleepy Magnuson Park for the biggest exhibition tournament of the season.

Ree ArrangHer, a member of Slaughter Co. Roller Vixens out of Kitsap County and a supervisor at Starbucks, said she enjoys the “sisterhood” of the team.

Ivanna Hercha, of Jet City Rollergirls from Everett and a middle school art teacher, said “female empowerment” was one of the reasons she loved roller derby. The Jet City Rollergirls started their league after being inspired by the Rat City Rollergirls.

“This is all skater-run and totally DIY [Do It Yourself]. No one gets paid and we raise money for charities and donations in order to give back to the community,” Hercha said.

The Rust Riot is completely volunteer — run and organized. The money raised goes to pay the security, rental fees and other expenses.

Michelle Johnson aka Connie Torturous, is a team captain for Jet City and a member of the league Board of Directors.

After she returned from working with the Peace Corps in the Ivory Coast and living in South Africa for seven months, she came to a Rat City battle, and said she became “obsessed” with it.

“I have been athletic all my life. I was a former samba dancer. Derby is like burlesque on wheels but it is also super athletic with lots of showmanship,” Johnson said.

Indeed, from the stage names to the costumes to the gestures after a big play, the female camaraderie rages beneath the surface of bravado and hyper — aggressiveness.

As Trixxxie’s Trashin’ Em put it, “What happens on the rink stays on the rink.”

“No one’s out here to make money,” Johnson said. “We raise money for uniforms and the league dues ,but a lot of our money goes to sponsoring charities and nonprofits in Seattle. We’re always trying to do things to give back to the community.”

The DIY spirit also contributes to the heightened sense of team cohesion that exists between the derby girls.

“Everyone is on a committee,” she said.

An artistically gifted rollergirl can make flyers and banners for events while someone who is good at finances or networking can work on fundraising for the league.

“This is the only sport where we say ‘We need bigger girls’,” Johnson said. “I’ve seen so many women gain confidence and improve their self-image. I even know girls who have gotten out of unhealthy relationships after joining a roller derby team. It’s like having 14 sisters.”

Jessica Ivey, aka Skater Scarlet Leather, is a new team member for Rat City.

“This is the best league in the country. … It’s undisputed that Rat City is the best,” Ivy said. “Roller derby was the first female all-contact sport. It’s pretty revolutionary. Girls aren’t taught to be aggressive and confrontational but this is a really good outlet.”

The backgrounds of her teammates and league-mates struck Ivey as being unique.

“It’s a really diverse cross-section of people. We have scientists, accountants … and they’re all really good at what they do,” she said.

Connie Torturous agreed.

“Every socio-economic class is here: People who work high profile jobs, to people who work 9-5, to housewives and everywhere in between,” she said.

With the sisterhood, the not-for-profit DIY ethos and the egalitarian structure of these roller derby leagues, there is no wonder why 11 new leagues were started in the Northwest in 2007, and flat-track all-female derby leagues have started in countries like Australia, France, Germany, Ireland and England.

As for the physical toll and injuries, all the skaters, after giving laundry lists of broken limbs and digits, sprains, bruises and pulled ligaments, say it is just part of the territory.

While Rat City won the Rust Riot decisively against Rose City from Portland, the real winners were all the athletes, fans and volunteers for their part in an emerging sub-culture that values teamwork, friendship, fairness and merit over money, power, nepotism and greed.

In an age where sports pundits and cultural critics disparage athletes for not being role models, either through poor sportsmanship or performance-enhancing drugs, they need not look any further for their future role models jamming, pivoting and blocking on eight wheels than in Hangar 30.

[Reach reporter Garrett Troy at features@thedaily.washington.edu.]

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