The sport of roller derby is physically striking – pun intended. The athletes are a visual masterpiece, a hodgepodge of women of all shapes, sizes and colors, united by tight clothes, helmets, and of course, skates. The sounds are stunning, from the crack of pads on the track to the flat smack of moving bodies being stopped abruptly.
It’s well-known that violence draws many fans to a roller derby bout. The Omaha Rollergirls (ORG), however, are drawn to derby by a much different force. And, that force is driving them to finish the season with a victory over their rival, Lincoln’s No Coast Derby Girls.
“I took my friend’s kid to a game one night,” Ginny daBeatin (a.k.a. Rosy Iaccino) recalled. “I loved it so much I came back the next night. And then I started volunteering.”
That was almost two years ago, and Ginny, whose career is in the military, has been with the team ever since. The June 9th bout against Lincoln at the Mid America Center (home track for the ORG) is not only Ginny’s season ender, it’s her last bout as an ORG.
“I got orders for Okinawa, Japan,” she said. “I leave July 5.”
It’s obvious from her look in her eyes and the passion in her voice that Ginny isn’t leaving roller derby when she leaves the States. If she had to start her own league in Okinawa, she might just do that. But she’s already checked on that.
“There’s a league in Japan,” she said, almost relieved. “There are leagues all over the world. I think there’s something like 80 leagues in France alone.”
The love Ginny felt that first night at the roller derby was not a one-off experience unique to her. It’s a wide-spread phenomena repeated over and over by everyone involved with the ORG. Talk a derby girl and they’ll tell you about empowerment, camaraderie and finding the strength to do things they never thought they could. Take, for example, marketing director Shawna Eves.
“I did this to find out who Shawna is,” she said of her decision to join derby, tears filling her eyes.
The mother of three used to skate, but when three positions opened on the board of directors and she realized she was one of few people who had the skills and passion to fill them, she fell on that sword for the organization.
Molly Massacre (Krystal Stallings) joined for a different reason in 2007, but fell in love with derby just the same.
“When I joined, it was to meet new people,” Molly said. “Then I realized I had to work hard. I’m a competitive person by nature, so I fell in love with it.”
The love and dedication each player experiences are must-haves, considering the grueling work outs and grinding schedule. The ORG are divided into two squads – the All Stars the AAA team – both of which strictly require 70% practice attendance, plus participation in off-track events such as appearances. Each squad practices three times a week for two and a half hours. Practice involves conditioning, strength training, drills and scrimmages. Most players learn to play all positions, even if some of them go on to specialize in one. And that’s if you get picked for the team after a bone-crushing, but extremely important six-week boot camp.
“I was pretty sore for most of boot camp,” said Forbid N. Fruit (Meghan Vesper), with a tongue-in-cheek nonchalant attitude. “You basically learn to skate. And there’s a lot to learn. You can come in with almost no experience and by the end of boot camp, 90% of the people have the ability to get through.”
By “get through” Forbid means accepted onto one of the squads. Most recruits start on the AAA team to build skills and experience. Between that and the boot camp, players learn how to prevent injury in a sport known for the violence.
“How we train,” Forbid said, “we learn how to not get hurt. We build the muscles that protect our joints. We learn how to fall. There’s no contact for the first half of boot camp.”
Of course, there is the occasional gruesome injury, though it likely won’t happen in a bout in front of the ticket-buying public. Scrimmages and drills can do just as much damage as a heated rivalry. Just ask Mikillya (Michaela Distefano).
“I broke my leg in practice,” she said. “I don’t even remember what happened. We were doing a blocking drill. The bone didn’t stick out through the skin, but people said they could feel it moving. It happened like six months after I first started, so I was out for that season. I had to get screws in my leg.”
Even after a devastating injury like that, Mikillya was roaring to come back when she was healed. Same goes for the six-months-pregnant Forbid, who has transitioned to a bench coach for her pregnancy, but wants to go back to skating.
Dedication like that has grown the ORG through a purely grassroots effort. In six years, Omaha went from having no team to having two squads who became a member of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association in 2008. The girls went from squeezing in matches and practices at Skatedaze to competing at the Mid America Center and leasing their own practice facility. The ORG also have a junior team and are helping an up-and-coming men’s team which happens to be coached by one of the ORG’s jammers.
This passion will be a much-needed inspiration for their bout with the No Coast Derby Girls. Obviously, the geography plays a part. It’s easy to name someone a rival when they’re the only team within 50 miles. But there’s a history between the ORG and the No Coast Derby Girls.
“They helped start the team here,” Mikillya said. “Some of their girls came up here and passed out flyers, and Omaha got a team started.”
“They still see us as their little sister,” Molly added. “They’re a good team. They’ve always been a good team, but we’ve got something to prove.”
Omaha is looking to the June 9th bout to settle that score. The ORG, who are 5-5 so far this season, matched up against Lincoln in February and won. Another W sends a strong message to the I-80 rival.
One girl to watch on Saturday will be the ORG jammer Ima Firestarter. She’s got the kind of body that would sell a roller girls work out video and Baryshnikov-like moves to go with it. It appears as if she can slice through the pack like a hot knife through soft butter, complete with tiny leaps over other skates.
Of course, Ginny will be out to prove herself in her final ORG match against their biggest rival.
“June 9th is huge,” she said with a smile. “We’re going to give Lincoln a run for their money.”
The Omaha Rollergirls take on the Lincoln No Coast Derby Girls on June 9th at 7 p.m. at the Mid America Center, 1 Arena Way, Council Bluffs. Admission is $10 in advance, $12 day of, kids 10 and under are free. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster and the MAC box office.