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Roller Derby Girls: Empowered by Being Powerful

Springfield Roller Girls/ Photo Credit: David Strong

One unlikely sport in Springfield is giving women a physical release they say they can’t get anywhere else. Those women are the Springfield Roller Girls, who skate in the local roller derby. With their first double header of the year this weekend, KSMU’s Shannon Bowers decided to see what it took to be a Springfield Roller Girl.

When these roller girls say they have a strong sisterhood, they mean strong.

These women are the All-Star team of the Springfield Roller Girls, or as they call it for short, S-R-D. While they practice their moves scrimmaging at Skateport on South Glenstone, I lace up a pair of some borrowed skates and head toward two women who look like they're more on my skating level.

That's when I roll into Kelsey Keeling. Today's her first day at practice.

“I haven’t skated in a long time actually…I am a little nervous I will make a fool out of myself but not too bad,” said Keeling.

Keeling says she always liked skating and she loves competition. When she finally decided to go to one of the Roller Derby Games--or as they're called in derby talk, "bouts"--she fell in love with the bold charisma and wild spirit she saw from the players. After that, she knew she had to give it a chance...even though she didn’t know much about the sport itself.

Each roller derby player has a nickname...usually something both humorous and menacing like Thugz and Kisses or  Slamburgler.  

[Sound: coach, "You have to stop like this, turn your foot….” ]

We start learning techniques from Machete Boop, who has been playing Roller Derby for five years now. She explains that Roller Derby is a lap sport that does not include any kind of a ball.

“It’s an on-skate, contact sport, played on a flat track. The goal of the game is for your jammer to get through a pack of girls and that is how you score points. Initially four blockers on each team and one jammer,” said Boop.

The Springfield Roller Girls belong to the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, or WFTDA. To qualify to play in any WFTDA game, all of the new players must pass a set of tests that includes skating backward, making jumps, and an endurance test. I tried some of those "tests."

Not so successful.

The tests can take women anywhere from a month to a year to complete. SRD is broken up into two teams: The Battle Broads and the All-Stars. Enjoying her first year on the All-Star team is Kayla Seiber, A.K.A. Tupac Shank-her. She explains to me what happens to her right before every bout.

“Jamnesea…I personify my derby name, Tupac Shank-her. Usually before the jam I like being nice and meeting new people but the second they blow that whistle, I will take them out with my butt,” explained Seiber.

Roller Derby provides a physical release unlike any other, she explains, because it is the only real contact sport for women. On top of that, it's also a mental game that rewards players for sticking together.

“Roller derby is one of the only things I have ever done for myself. I have always been self-conscious and the black sheep. I was still all of those things but it started breaking me down. I had to find something that made me feel powerful. Someone I can be proud of and someone who can fight hard,” said Seiber.

I checked back in with Keeling to see how her first day of practice went.

“So far not too bad because I haven’t fallen. Two thumbs up.I think practice went pretty well I am confident I can get better. I want to come back for more.”

The Springfield Roller Girls are fierce and quick to take an opponent out, but also encouraging, supportive team members. These women say they are empowered by being powerful.

For KSMU News I’m Shannon Bowers.