On Saturday I drove to the S.O.S Club in Modesto to watch the SINtral Valley Derby Girls host the Shasta Mountain Mighty Rollers, where I experienced the cult sensation known as roller derby for the first time. As I walked onto the basketball court — which had been fashioned into a makeshift track — I couldn’t help but notice the crowd’s enthusiasm as the girls strapped on their helmets and prepared to jam.
The girls on the track looked like football or hockey players, only more feminine. They sported protective padding in the form of helmets, knee pads, wrist guards, and elbow pads. They wore jerseys with their names and numbers on them so their performances could be noted. They wore tights and stockings underneath their skates and a fierce, competitive energy on their faces. Their attitudes suggested that pain would not be an issue; it would be a means to an end. And that end was fun.
As the referee blew his whistle and the girls began to skate in a circle, I saw the two teams grouping together in formations. Lines were drawn and members of the SVDB acted like offensive lineman, shielding Shasta skaters from the track in front of them and ramming those who tried to get past them with their shoulders.
The crowd cheered as those who were hit fell to the track and a SVDG skater blew past the crowd. I could tell by the star on her helmet that she played an important role but my understanding of the rules were still fuzzy, so I just watched and enjoyed. After 20 minutes or so of watching members from both teams crash and fall onto the track while designated skaters dodged and ducked those still on their feet, I started to understand the game’s concept and why the fans were so excited. I still didn’t understand the skaters’ motivation, though. Why would they expose themselves to the dangers of broken bones, sprains, or busted noses? Was there money involved or maybe even a championship?
Desiree “Tiny Tornado” Bodine explained it to me best.
“A lot of us are mothers or house wives. We like to come out on the weekends and get our aggression out and have fun. If that involves knocking the crap out of each other, so be it,” Bodine said.
It turns out there was no championship. No cash prizes or playoff tournaments to look forward to. It was all about bragging rights.
That’s when I realized that, no matter the age, gender, or personal circumstances of a person, competition drives everyone. Everybody wants to win at something, and when they win they want people to see. Raising children and maintaining a family are rewarding in their own right, some might say more so than anything in the world, but no one cheers when a diaper is changed or errands are completed. Score boards aren’t lit up with points each time a meal is made or a floor is mopped. For these women, roller derby was a chance to let out their inner girl, to compete for competition’s sake and have fun with like minded individuals.
SVDB defeated the Mighty Rollers, 188-74, but girls from both teams smiled, laughed, and embraced each other, acting as if they had all won. Maybe they did.