With a hard thrust from “Joe Momma’s” shoulder, Roller Doll Angela Death is knocked across the harsh concrete floor. She turns her fall into a somersault and, with barely any loss of momentum, is back on her feet and catching up to the rest of the pack. This is par for the course during a “bout,” or match, in roller derby.
The Denver Roller Dolls, made up of about 60 females, breaks down into two intra-league teams: the Green Barrettes and the Bad Apples, as well as a traveling inter-league team called the Mile High Club, which consists of all-stars from the other two
teams and is the team I’m watching this evening.
On this particular night I’m feeling my loyalties pulled, as Denver goes up against the Kansas City Roller Warriors, a team from my home state. However, since this is my first bout, I decide to appreciate the action, the hits and the skills of both sides and just work on grasping the rules of the game and identifying the players.
Dressed in an array of short plaid and frilly skirts, thigh-high tights and over-the-top make-up, the women complete their eight-wheeled personas with names such as Ivona Killeau, Bruz-Her and Dharma Gedden. However, my favorite quickly becomes Denver’s Friction VixXxen.
Friction VixXxen is the pilot of the Mile High Club, which I take to mean a captain of sorts. It’s easy to understand why. She exudes confidence as she enters the track and other skaters seem to be very aware of her presence. I am amazed at her control as she takes hits and, more easily, hands them out, and yet seldom wavers in balance.
I take a moment to wonder whether my junior high years at “The Wheel Thing,” my hometown roller rink, could have prepped me for a potential run in roller derby next to the VixXxen (as I’ve now endearingly nicknamed) or Bijou Blacnbleu. I mean, I used to skate pretty fast, if memory serves, and I wasn’t scared to take an occasional tumble. I make a mental note to discuss it with my husband when I get home. I make another note to ignore any obnoxious laughter I may hear.
I re-focus on the event before me and begin dissecting the sport. No matter how they dress or the number of tattoos they sport, what makes the members truly stand out is their performance as they battle around the makeshift track, outlined on the floor of the Denver Coliseum with wide tape.
At the sound of the first whistle, a four-member “pack” from each team begins skating. The pack consists of a “pivot,” the pace-setter identified by stripes on the helmet, and three blockers. Each team has a “jammer,” who stays behind the pack and is allowed to take off at the sound of a second whistle for a two-minute “jam session.” The jammer, identified by a star on her helmet, is the only team member who can score points. Her objective is to pass through the crush of blockers. The first jammer to break past the opponents scores the points.
The women of the Denver Roller Dolls, a nonprofit organization founded in 2005, are athletes who have embraced the art of roller-skating and become part of the most recent roller derby revival. It’s a fast-paced, ultra-aggressive competition that involves skillful maneuvering as well as vicious thrashing between the teams.
During the jam sessions, skaters exhibit amazing core-control as they take hits from the opposing blockers and often stay the course with hardly a tremble. However, when the skaters do go tumbling down, you can often hear a collective groan from the crowd similar to that which you might expect from someone who can’t quite turn away from a train wreck.
While the Dolls are fiercely focused on competition during the bouts, they strive to strengthen the community through volunteering, each performing a set amount of community service hours for charities such as The Gathering Place, Project Angel
Heart, Girls Inc. and the Colorado AIDS Project.
As the event comes to a close, I spot the VixXxen, whose team has just lost to the Warriors, as she skates past the K.C. gals to slap hands in congratulations. She’s smiling and laughing with the competing skaters as though they’re a close group of girlfriends who just finished a friendly game of ping pong, not a highly physical bout of running one another down. Then, as one would expect from any skilled athlete, she kneels down to sign a few autographs for the line of preteen girls waiting to meet their new role model.
If You Go
To learn more about the organization, go to www.denverrollerdolls.org.
Sheri L. Thompson is a freelance writer/photographer. She lives in Denver. She is a fine arts graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia and a journalism graduate of Metropolitan State College of Denver.
From the Editors: We spent a heap of time making sure this story was accurate when it was published, but of course, things can change. Please confirm the details before setting out in our great Centennial State.