Big wheels: Minnesota RollerGirls

  • Article by: BILL WARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 20, 2008 - 5:04 PM
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The beginning of the fourth season of roller derby kicks off Feb 24. Four teams represented by members working in all walks of life make and interesting twist to names and personalities on the hardwood. Rachael Herder, aka "Ann E. Briated," in her lab on the university campus where she studies the steroids in fruit flies as part of her thesis.

Photo: Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

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No butchers, bakers nor candlestick makers. But among this year's fourscore of Minnesota RollerGirls are an engineer, a microbiologist, an EMT, a DJ, designers (fashion, graphic and Web), a bicycle wheel builder and a restaurant manager.

"It's amazing to me the really diverse walks of life we have," said Jennifer Undis, who juggles two fields of work that are represented among the four local teams: business owner (of a letterpress company) and artist (she designs stationery). Today's roller derbies bear little resemblance to the brutish 1970s version or Raquel Welch's theatrics in the 1972 film "Kansas City Bomber." Not only is the surface flat rather than banked, but there isn't much of the pro-wrestling-style histrionics and high jinks common in the past.

This is a serious sport, not a spectacle, played by women with day jobs who find a bond at the rink.

"I've made some incredible friends, people I never would have met otherwise," said Undis. "But my No. 1 favorite thing is being able to knock people over. It's super fun to land some really solid hits and send someone flying."

OK, so maybe some things haven't changed all that much.

Lindsy Halleckson (Rebel Stella)

Even among her multitasking peers, this 27-year-old fan favorite has a busy life. She's an artist (abstract painting, mostly), an MBA student at the University of St. Thomas, co-owner of a custom T-shirt business and president of Minnesota RollerGirls. She grew up in Prior Lake and Lakeville, taking up figure skating at the relatively late age of 6. She won a state skating championship at age 12.

Q OK, what's with the nickname?

A The name Stella is kind of like an old woman's name. Sometimes I seem like an old lady [chuckles]. And it plays off that [Billy Idol] song "Rebel Yell." Plus it's just funny to hear people yell "Stelllllla," kind of 'A Streetcar Named Desire' thing.

Q Are you a jammer all the way?

A I really, really like blocking now. Since I have jammed so much I can kind of anticipate what the jammers are going to do, and I can hunt them down and not be the one being hunted all the time.

Q What do you say to people who compare it to pro wrestling?

A In the beginning, people used to say that a lot. It's pretty obvious when you see it that it's real. It's more about the sport and strategy and physical ability now. There are moves, like in football, but no part of it is choreographed. There's no way it's like pro wrestling, other than the funny names.

Q How much longer do you want to do this?

A Until my knees give out, probably [laughs].

Kari Bennett (The Bonesetter)

"Confidence, definitely," Bennett quickly declares when asked what she has gotten out of being a RollerGirl. The 30-year-old played basketball and volleyball while growing up in Nebraska; she moved here in 2001 to attend Northwestern Health Sciences University and become a chiropractor.

Q Have any of your fellow players become your patients?

A Yes, somebody who was really, really bad off. She had fallen on her tailbone, her sacrum, and was having pain for months. We found what her problem was and took care of it.

Q Are there aspects of your work that inform your roller-derby approach?

A Well, just knowing biomechanics and the proper way to stretch and strengthen when we do core work and having the right posture.

Q Does the nickname relate more to your work or the way you play the game?

A I just wanted to merge the two together. They're both prevalent in my life.

Q RollerGirl games: What percentage testosterone, what percentage estrogen?

A Well, there's a lot of strong women with strong opinions, strong physically, emotionally, mentally. Probably a good percentage of both, maybe 50-50.

Q Ever see "Kansas City Bomber"? Thumbs up or thumbs down?

A Thumbs up. It's just hilarious.

Rachel Herder (Ann E. Briated)

The 25-year-old grad student was wearing a Point Beer T-shirt during her interview. Not because she wanted to live up to her Roller moniker, but because she recently toured the brewery in her hometown of Stevens Point, Wis. She has a pretty sobering task at hand: earning a joint law degree/Ph.D. in molecular science at the University of Minnesota. "I want to be an intellectual property attorney when I grow up," she said.

Q Does being a RollerGirl help you in your studies?

A Definitely it does. It's just the best stress reliever. I'm so academic all the time, it's nice to let loose, hit some girls around and be a rock star at the end of the day.

Q OK, what's with the nickname?

A I just thought it was a fun name. I don't partake that much. I just liked the sound of it. Plus I like being called Annie.

Q Was it hard to learn how to slide properly, or fall without getting hurt?

A I think I might be known as the Dive Bomber. I had a guy come up to me in Cincinnati and say 'I have never seen a girl fall down and get up quickly so many times.' And my name's Ann E. Briated so the announcers sometimes have fun with that, like I had a few cocktails before I got out there, which, of course, I don't. You'd get hurt if you did that. We practice baseball slides and what we call rock star slides when you go on your knees and slide ahead.

Q RollerGirl games: What percentage testosterone, what percentage estrogen?

A It's 100 percent estrogen. It's all girls. We're making estrogen look tough. It's funny, in my lab I'm researching steroid hormones, which is what estrogen and testosterone are.

Jennifer Undis (Rizzo73)

Sports have always been a major part of life for 34-year-old Undis, who also owns a letterpress biz and designs stationery. She ran track and cross country and played softball, basketball and volleyball while growing up in Hopkins and Plymouth, and played rugby in college.

Q Is roller derby as rough as rugby?

A Yes. It's a different kind of rough. With rugby you're not wearing pads, but with roller derby there's more seeing what you can get away with in terms of giving your opponent a hard time. When I played rugby, people played clean; there were no shenanigans. It's a little bit dirty sometimes [in roller derby].

Q OK, what's with the nickname?

A I took it from the movie "Grease." It's one of my favorite movies, and I really loved the character Rizzo. She's a rough-and-tumble gal but she's not made of steel. Her feelings get hurt. She's tender even though she's mean. '73 is the year I was born.

Q When you're "Rizzo73," are you more in the mode of business owner or creative artist?

A I think I am probably more biz-owner mode. I often play the position of pivot, which is sort of an on-field captain. I'm skating at the front of the pack and calling lines. I'm not an authority figure, but I'm helping coordinate what everyone's doing.

Q What's the worst part of roller derby?

A I broke my ankle last year. I was on crutches six weeks. That sucked. It did give me second thoughts about doing this. Before people would say, 'How long are you gonna play roller derby?' and I'd say 'Until I break a bone.' And then I broke my ankle. I thought about whether I wanted to take risks like that and decided I did.

Q How much longer do you want to do this?

A Maybe till I break another bone [chuckles]. I shouldn't even say that out loud.

Bill Ward • 612-673-7643

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  • Kari Bennett

  • Lindsy Halleckson

  • Jenni Undis

  • MINNESOTA ROLLERGIRLS

    WHO: ATOMIC BOMBSHELLS VS. ROCKITS and Dagger Dolls vs. Garda Belts.

    When: 7:30 p.m. Sun.

    Where: Roy Wilkins Auditorium, 175 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul.

    Cost: Trackside (no one under 18, and available only at the Roy Wilkins box office): $12 in advance, $14 at the door. General admission (balcony): $10 in advance, $12 at the door, ages 9 and under free, available at box office, Ticketmaster (651-989-5151) and outlets listed at www.mnrollergirls.com/parking_tickets.php.

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