Aura Welch, Maria Martinez and Joyce Kelner are “fresh meat,” enduring sore muscles and bruises from playing on a fast-paced and growing grassroots sport team.
They are the newest women from Richmond Hill who joined the Savannah Derby Devils, an all-woman flat track roller derby team. Those three, along with two other women from Richmond Hill and others from the surrounding area, are sharpening their skating skills and learning the whirlwind roller derby game.
Welch, Martinez and Kelner all attended the Savannah Derby Devils boot camp in May and tried out for the team, becoming full league members in August. Kianne Holt and Bobbie Daniel-Krompak, from Richmond Hill, were also some of the 22 women who joined the league as fresh meat, or new skaters who cannot yet play in games.
“I screamed when I made it,” said Martinez, a 40-year-old accountant who goes by the name Vixen Valkyrie on the track.
The new members of the team played their latest scrimmage on Nov. 20, right before the Savannah Derby Devils faced the Cape Fear Roller Girls of Wilmington, N.C. The 2010 fresh meat class will graduate to veterans, like Richmond Hill residents Julia Harrison and Charlene Lohf of the Savannah Derby Devils, in May or after they are ready to play in their first game.
Modern roller derby is fashioned after the game in the 1960s and ‘70s but has some major differences. Instead of a banked track, the game is played on a flat, oval track. The teams are run by the roller girls, and there is no flagrant hitting or staged trips allowed.
Games, or bouts, last an hour and are split into two 30-minute periods, which are further separated into jams. Five women from each team line up on the track, forming a pack lead by two pivots, one from each team, six blockers, three from each team, and two jammers, one from each team. The jammers, who sport stars on their helmet covers, line up 20 feet behind the pack of blockers and pivots. They are the speedy sprinters who score points for their team.
The teams try to get their jammer past the opposite team’s pivot first without committing any penalties, such as elbowing or tripping opposing team members. In between, roller girls strategically bump and hit while jammers sprint and whip around the track and through the pack.
The Savannah Derby Devils joined the growing list of grassroots roller derby teams in 2006 and started competing against other teams in 2007, according to its website.
Harrison, who goes by Souxsi Skoolyard, joined the Devils in 2009 and has seen the fan base and sport grow since. Last year, the girls on the team would get excited when 600 people attended their bouts. Now, they are selling more than 1,000 tickets, Harrison said.
“It’s gotten huge,” she said.
It’s not just the Savannah Derby Devils, which has about 40 roller girls on its roster, that has grown. The sport has exploded from its rebirth in 2001 to more than 400 teams in the United States and internationally, according to the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association website.
Harrison, 31, a stay-at-home mom and freelance photographer for the Bryan County News, believes the sport will get bigger.
“I see a really good future,” she said. “It’s only up from here.”
Being a member of the Savannah Derby Devils is a huge commitment, the six women said. The team holds three physically strenuous practices a week in Garden City. Some girls on the team commute from Hinesville, South Carolina and other places just to get to practice, Harrison said.
“It amazes me that people drive an hour and a half to skate,” she said.
For Martinez, Welch, Kelner, Harrison, Lohf and the newest member from Richmond Hill, Alice Armitage, playing roller derby is so much more than a good work out that leaves them “sufficiently sore,” Welch said. It’s a new form of “girl power,” and roller girls become part of a sisterhood.
“It’s very much about women empowerment,” Harrison said.
Welch, a 42-year-old art teacher in the Richmond Hill who goes by Violet Seizure on the team, said her life got lost in work and family. But she does something for herself once she puts on quad skates and hits the track. The team is comprised of a diverse group of women, and Welch said that she’s found her niche.
“We all fit in because we’re all different,” she said. “There’s not a mold for a derby girl. That’s why we all fit in.”
Harrison said another member of the Devils put it best: that roller derby is their sanctuary – a place where they don’t feel judged.
Kelner, a 54-year-old histotechnician who calls herself Foxee Moxee, doesn’t feel judged even though she is one of the older women on the team, she said.
“Everyone treats me like I’m their age,” she said.
Lohf, a 25-year-old nurse who goes by Incindiary Crawford, agreed.
“We hit her just as hard,” she said, adding that the girls on the team are very welcoming and really care about each other.
“It’s like a requirement that you have to be awesome,” she said.
Martinez said she thought roller derby was the “coolest thing” when she saw a bout earlier this year. She signed up for boot camp in May for the fitness aspect, and then fell in love with the sport and the atmosphere.
“These girls seem to be a family rather than just friends,” she said.
When she puts on skates and focuses on practice, Martinez said she puts the stress of being an Army wife, her job and kids out of her head.
“I don’t think about that crap” she said.
Harrison said she knew she wanted to be a roller girl after watching a bout in Seattle, Wash. She also echoed an incredible sense of camaraderie that the women get from being on the team.
“I don’t have to worry if my house is on fire,” Harrison said, “because six derby girls will show up with buckets.”
The Savannah Derby Devils will march in the Savannah Christmas Parade on Saturday Dec. 4.