Rage City Rollergirls burst onto the scene in Alaska

Women's roller derby league features hard hits, big fun in winter

Posted: Monday, December 15, 2008

ANCHORAGE - Don't mess with the Rage City Rollergirls.

Al Grillo / The Associated Press
Al Grillo / The Associated Press

By day, they're office workers, stay-at-home moms, insurance auditors, lawyers, bookkeepers, bill collectors and chefs. Nighttime is a whole different story.

That's when they pull on their torn fishnet hose and underwear with skulls and lightning bolts, slip into their favorite see-through miniskirts, strap on their helmets, and go off, around and around the roller derby track with one thing in mind - sending another rollergirl flying.

"That is what I'm here for. Sometimes it hurts really, really bad. Sometimes it feels good," said Samantha Jones, a 27-year-old single mother and telecommunications worker, known around the track as "Killa Magilla."

The Rage City Rollergirls league was formed last year and operates under Women's Flat Track Derby Association rules. The association began in 2004 and has dozens of leagues nationwide. More are seeking sanction, including the Rage City Rollergirls, said 37-year-old Polly Carr, the league's acting president and a skater known as "Carr Wreck."

Carr saw her first women's roller derby bout in Colorado a few years ago. She was hooked.

"I just thought this was the most entertaining thing I have ever seen in my life," she said.

She and several other women decided to bring women's roller derby to Alaska. They now have about 30 skaters, many of them sporting Rage City tattoos.

"The roller derby of today is much more focused on athletics and serious competition," Carr said. "There are still all of the stage names and the entertainment part is still there, but it is not just entertainment. It really is about women athletes."

Kendall Nielsen, aka "Spenard Itch," a 25-year-old college student with a pierced lip who works as a "food runner" at a local pizza restaurant, said the Rage City Rollergirls are a diverse group with a lot in common.

"We are all alpha females," she said. "All the girls are real nice, but when you are out and rocking your derby self, none of the girls are nice."

Coach Tracy Burton, a 32-year-old bill collector and mother of a 3-year-old girl, said roller derby is popular with misfits, the girls who were outcasts in high school.

With the first bout of the season coming up Saturday, the Rage City Rollergirls were rocking their derby selves at a recent practice.

"Nautical Nuisance!" "Razor Burns!" "Killa Magilla!" the referee shouts as the women take to the track. The two teams, the Dirty Polli's and the Sockeye Sallys, skate slowly around the track, eyeing each other, looking to make a move.

Teams consist of pivots at the front, blockers in the middle and jammers at the rear. Pivots control the pace, jammers try to score points by getting past opponents, and blockers and pivots try to knock opponents off their feet. Each bout lasts three, grueling 20-minute periods.

"If you are small like me you have to be fast to keep from getting hit," said Kim Wetzel, aka "Kim Kong," a 31-year-old engineering firm planner who stands 5-foot-4.

She doesn't always make it through unscathed.

"You take a lot of hits, and you have to maintain your composure," Wetzel said. "You have to not take it personally when you get blocked. I tell people when it's a good hit."

The Rage City Rollergirls can take some hits. The women are taught how to skate "small" to make themselves less of a target. They learn how to fall to decrease chances of being injured. They're told to never put their fingers on the track because they will get run over.

"You hit the ground and boom, you don't move," Wetzel said. "People get hurt pretty regularly."

Patricia Bergeron, aka "New England Pat Riot," was looking for something intense where she could vent some anger when she saw an ad in the newspaper for the Rage City Rollergirls.

"I said, 'My God I am there,"' the 46-year-old customer-service representative said.

Last year, Bergeron was diagnosed with an illness, which she chooses not to disclose, that required two surgeries. In the past three years, two brothers have died, one of cancer, the other of a heart attack.

She knew the other skaters, some of them much younger than her, were going easy on her.

"I said if you don't hit me I'm going to knock you down," Bergeron said.

"I like the falling down, the getting up, and the ladies that are there and the friends I've made and the energy it gives me," she said. "When I get home the adrenaline is so high in my body it takes me three hours to fall asleep."

Tonja Hotrum, aka "Queen Elizadeath," pulls up the sleeve of her sweat shirt to reveal a large purple scar near her elbow. The 40-year-old mother of three who works at the Fort Richardson Army base as a medical officer recently broke the radial head of her elbow. Hotrum was doing a whip move in which she grabbed a teammate to propel her forward and instead was pulled down to the track.

"I had pads on but the force was so hard, it shattered," Hotrum said of her elbow.

In September, her elbow was replaced. She's been sidelined since.

Against doctors advice, she will return to the track in February.

"I miss it horribly," Hotrum said.

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