My sister, the roller derby diva
Since I moved to Greensboro four years ago, there have been a couple of developments in my family back home in Austin, Texas. One of the biggest was my older sister’s discovery of the polyester-era pastime of roller derby.
Megan, my sister, has always been the most natural athlete out of the three Kingsley sisters and the most glamorous, a blueprint for success out on the mean rink. Now, three years after her first tryout, most of her friends know her as ‘Helena,’ her self-appointed battle moniker minus the ‘Handbasket’ surname. She contributes her talents to the Lonestar Rollergirls’ Holy Rollers.
The experience has conferred upon Megan a small measure of celebrity. Austin has enough fans and participants to support two independent roller derby leagues and about a dozen teams. Camera crews and journalists have come from as far away as Germany to film bouts, and her league is the focus of an upcoming A & E reality series about the resurgent seventies blood sport.
My mom proudly circulates the press clippings over email. Even my grandmother has worked up some enthusiasm for the sport, despite her misgivings about the skimpy outfit (the Holy Rollers compete in Catholic school girl getups) and some of the publicity (Hustler used a clothed picture of my sister for a feature on the team). But I have never seen one of my sister’s bouts.
When I heard that a Raleigh league was forming, and that some curious friends were going to see them play, I jumped at the opportunity to join them. I figured it might be the best opportunity I have to understand something that has been a big part of my family’s life for the past three years. Never has one of my holiday visits to Texas coincided with a roller derby match up.
Sunday I drove from Greensboro to the Skate Ranch on the outskirts of Raleigh to watch the second bout of the season, the Debutante Brawlers versus the Trauma Queens. The baby Carolina Rollergirls League has only two teams right now, but is recruiting more members.
Confusion over departure time stymied my trip to the capital city; I arrived after the pre-game tutorial. Skaters lapped each other and tangled on the hardwood as the scores increased randomly, Brawlers up 46 to 34, now 53 to 42.
From the outset, one skater dominated the match ‘— superstar Roxy Rockett. As a jammer, Roxy cut through the pack of formidable blockers like a shark through a school of fish. When she blocked, she tossed looks over her shoulder and fired devastating hip checks with stunning accuracy. This lady looked like she was born on quads.
I crouched on the lacquered hardwood skating floor and soaked up the particulars of the game. Only the jammer can score, and she does that by lapping the three blockers and the pivot player from each team skating in front of her. When she has cleared the group once, she earns a point for every one of the other team’s skaters she passes.
Penalties like limbo and pillow fight add a dash of theater to the mix. But the two-minute jams are unadulterated displays of guts and talent.
The violence is real, especially to spectators on the front row. Most audience members seem to treat catching a skate to the chest with the same exultation as a baseball fan snagging a fly ball. One skater body slammed a seated spectator of some girth as she careened off-track. He grinned toothily as he rose from the collision, proudly showing his friends the close-up picture snapped on his digital camera at the moment of impact.
During the intermission, or halftime depending on your perspective, a band played for the sold-out crowd. Some spectators waltzed over to the concession stand where, true to their usual juvenile clientele, the employees served nothing stronger than strawberry soda.
Other players earned their stripes as they tried to stop the relentless Roxy onslaught. Blocker Penelope Bruz stopped a couple of key passes and the Trauma Queens’ Teflon Donna snuck through the pack to narrow the 30-point lead to a nine-point margin by the last jam.
Despite their heart and the crowd support for the underdogs, the Trauma Queens couldn’t pull it out. Ringer Roxy Rockett jammed for the Brawlers in the last pass and cushioned the winning margin. Final score: 117 to 104.
I returned to Austin a few weeks ago to attend my sister’s wedding. The night of her bachelorette party, as we stumbled from the Sidebar to Beerland across Red River Street, a fellow skater emerged from the shadows and tackled my sister. The scabs still covered her knees two days later when she walked down the aisle.
In her lovely dress and meticulous coif, Megan looked as radiant as Grace Kelly. The dress hid the signs of her double life, the scars and bruises that tell only half the story. Man, you should have seen the other girl’…
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