by Elena Bittinger | Photography by Phil Grout
Raging Rapunzel loves to hit people.
And that’s a good thing.
Rapunzel, aka Chelsy Rodgers, is head coach of the Black Rose Rollers, Hanover’s own roller derby team.
For her — and for her teammates — roller derby is all about releasing pent-up aggression. The goal of the sport is out-skating the other team, and when your strategies include shoving, elbowing, and taking down an opponent, what could be more attractive to a group of women escaping the tedium of day-to-day life?
In May 2010, Kim Underwood (who skates under the name Gogo Tenenbom) and a group of close friends formed the Black Rose Rollers. As Lacy Adams (By O. Hazard) says, “Derby gives you a sense of family,” one they’ve chosen and one that supports them, on and off the rink.
Soon after its formation, the organization had grown to the point that it was split into two teams: the All-Stars and the Rotten Cherries. In 2012, the Rollers were accepted into the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, a designation that permits the women to compete at a higher level.
In addition to hitting people and adopting a second family, derby offers women empowerment. As Brandi Lemmon (Slamorous) says, derby “allows women to be strong — unabashedly.”
The women gain confidence and “feel safe amongst other women,” Amber Bosley (Olive Havoc) adds. The athletes also gain a sense of achievement.
“Within these walls, it doesn’t matter what you do on the outside,” says Slamorous. “You are you, and that can mean whatever you make it. You achieve or fail based on your own hard work, and each challenge you face and overcome makes you stronger.”
For some people, that sort of empowerment might be worrisome — especially if you don’t like getting hit. As Mandi Cinquegrani (Freshie 2) says, “Coming to practice is 80 percent ‘I totally want to come’ and 20 percent ‘I’m kind of scared.’”
But the women say derby isn’t something to be feared. It’s something to be embraced. And as Olive Havoc says, “It’s not always easy, but it’s definitely worth it.”
New members are “fresh meat skaters.” Before they compete, they learn basic skills and must pass minimum skills test created by the WFTDA. Skaters are taught “derby position,” stopping techniques, “hit and whips”, and “footwork build-ups.” According to Stephanie Pettit (Freshie 1), derby position is “squatting low with your head and shoulders up. ‘Hit and whips’ are when you grab a teammate and use them to propel yourself forward faster. The footwork build-ups include hopping, jumping, weaving and being able to transition, or the ability to turn 180 to 360 degrees without losing pace.”
Derby is strenuous, and since the women only have two, maybe sometimes three chances to practice during the week, they use different ways to keep in shape. Some, like By O. Hazard, engage in high-intensity interval training, cardio and yoga, while others stay fit chasing their children up and down the stairs and all around the house, like Olive Havoc. Then there are some, like Freshie 1, who focus on eating clean to gain energy.
To prevent injury, the girls maintain good form, practice as much as they can, learn when and how to fall, and invest in good gear. “But if you are hurt, let yourself heal properly, so you can come back at 110 percent,” Freshie 1 says.
When it comes to competing, the athletes take care to mentally prepare for game day. By O. Hazard wears the same outfit, whereas Olive Havoc has a set playlist for negative vs. positive thinking that she listens to before every game to get into her mental space. She says, “The girls know, once my earbuds are in, the rest of the world is tuned out.”
As for keeping focused during the game, By O. Hazard has played sports her entire life, so it has always been easy for her to focus. However, when her head isn’t in the game, she talks with another player before hitting the rink. Olive Havoc says she “gives high-fives, smiles, and friendly reminders that we’re here to have fun.”
The team is always looking for new members (the minimum age is 18). Raging Rapunzel says, “Just do it! Don’t be scared that you don’t know anyone, can’t skate, or it’ll be too hard. Come try it anyway! You may find your spot is not as a skater, but there are tons of other ways to help and be part of the Black Rose Family!”
Slamorous adds, “Stick with it, even when it gets hard. Revel in each new achievement. Don’t worry too long on the setbacks, and don’t judge your progress by others’ progress. It takes time. You just have to keep at it. Roller derby is simultaneously the hardest and most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, and it has completely changed my life. I truly could not imagine my life right now had I not found it. “
All that is needed to join is comfy, flexible clothing, a helmet, safety pads for elbows and knees, and a mouth guard. No experience is needed. And if you have never skated, they will teach you — how to move, how to stop, how to speed, and how to fall.
And yes, you will need to learn how to fall.