Rough rollers: Skaters find camaraderie through roller derby

What? There goes Grandma, on her roller skates. Now what’s she doing? Flying full-speed into a gaggle of other women on skates? This can’t be happening!

Oh yes, it can — if you’re a member of the Sioux Falls Roller Dollz.

“We have league members that come from all walks of life,” said FistHerElla, a four-year veteran skater of the Roller Dollz.

The Sioux Falls Roller Dollz is part of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA). They skate on an oval track, 180 feet around with 30-foot-long straight sides, according to the WFTDA regulations. 

Each skater sports a nickname. There’s no rhyme or reason to the names, and skaters pick their own. Some skaters choose names based on their careers or what their favorite things are.

“We have to earn our name, though, before we can pick one out,” FistHerElla said.

Unique Doll Star names include Moshpit Marilyn, Jackie O’Smashus and ProPain.

Referees and “dollunteers” also get a nickname, but they earn it by completing 80 hours of Dollz-related activities. 

Going All Out

Roller derby, a full-contact sport, pushes skaters to constantly master new skills and build a high-level of endurance.

“We work really hard on our endurance, and it is actually something that our team is known for in the roller derby world,” FistHerElla said.

It’s not uncommon for skaters to leave a bit sore.

“We wear our bruises like a badge of honor,” FistHerElla said.

All league members and referees are unpaid. The Roller Dollz is comprised of women with various occupations. League members include a therapist, hairdresser, architect, crime scene investigator and an HVAC technician. The team has moms and even one grandma, and skaters range from 18 to 40 years old.

The Sioux Falls Roller Dollz is also a huge time commitment. 

“We always joke that roller derby will take over your life,” FistHerElla said.

Skaters are required to attend two practices a week, and all fundraisers are mandatory all-league attendance. 

“It’s kind of like having a part-time job on top of regular life,” FistHerElla said.

Social Distancing on Skates

The roller derby season typically runs January through November. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the Sioux Falls Roller Dollz to cancel its season, which thus far would have included the season opener, a bout against St. Cloud, and a fundraiser benefit.

“Suspending our season was heartbreaking because this was really going to be our comeback season,”  FistHerElla said.

While the team can’t hold usual practice, members have been going on social distancing skates on the Sioux Falls bike trails to prepare for next season, according to two-year skater MaximumEffort. Fresh Meat Coach Tommyknock’erDown has also been posting home workouts tailored to roller derby. 

Prior to suspended practice and play, the Dollz had many new recruits — the most the league had seen in years.

The Dollz didn’t have as much luck its past two seasons.

The team had undergone changes in the last couple of years. It had no venue last year, and many members left the league. The Sioux Falls Roller Dollz almost ceased to exist.

Last season was used to rebuild the team. 

The remaining members worked hard to keep the league together, and a new head coach was appointed. New recruiting techniques were also implemented.

As season 14 approached, the team was growing. Members were excited to be playing once again, and the league was headed in a positive direction.

Their hopes are temporarily dashed, but new recruits provide hope for the team.

New skaters wanting to become league members are referred to as “Fresh Meat.” To be a Doll, a skater has to pass basic training that includes learning skating skills and studying derby strategies. Veteran skaters and coaches teach the Fresh Meat skating stance, backwards skating, how to fall safely and how to give and take hits. How quickly a recruit can be a member all depends on the person, according to FistHerElla. 

Someone who has no skating experience but is committed to attending team practices and working on skills at home could pass the basic training in one to two months. However, someone with skating experience could speed through tests in as little as a month. But, it takes about a year to hone skills and another year to refine gameplay and strategy. 

“You’re a rookie for two years. Then you become a veteran skater,” FistHerElla said.

Skaters also have to maintain requirements to be active league members, one requirement being that they do volunteer work outside the organization.The Sioux Falls Roller Dollz are involved with multiple charities, but their main one is Habitat for Humanity.

Beautifully Unique

A primary part of the Roller Dollz is the team’s dedication to promoting a positive body image mentality. Members of the team are passionate about being beautifully unique.

“It’s important to own what you think is beautiful,” FistHerElla said.

The Roller Dollz started out by sending MySpace bulletins and distributing flyers in Sioux Falls during 2006. The first recruiting event garnered almost 50 women, according to the Roller Dollz website. Now, the league is in a similar situation. It’s back to recruiting and building a team. The skaters’ spirit keeps the league alive and their grit keeps them in the game.

“We all have a real passion for this sport and what it means to us,” FistHerElla said.

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