Women’s roller derby, once a kitschy-catfight staple of 1970s TV, is still around — and different from what you might think. It’s called the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association now, or WFTDA — which almost sounds like WUFF-DA, the sound a Minnesotan would make when she gets an elbow in the ribs and tumbles off the track into the spectators.
Who does it? Well, if you thought “probably a math teacher mom in her 40s,” you are absolutely correct. So, Barb: How did this happen?
“A girlfriend said let’s try it, and she dragged me to an informational meeting. It looked fun. I thought it would be a good mix of theater and athletics. I did rowing in my 20s, theater in my 30s and now I’m in my 40s, so why not both?
“My body would have appreciated something else, maybe.”
That’s because it’s rugby on wheels. “It’s a pretty intense sport. You’ve got people knocked out. There’s strategy. You’re playing offense and defense at the same time. You’re not allowed to push anyone with your arms, but you can check with your hips, and as long as you’re in an area beneath the shoulder along the rib cage, it’s OK. “Outside the bra straps is how it’s described.”
First time? “Showed up to practice in full gear and did a lot of flailing. They did things I didn’t anticipate. I did a lot of roller-blading in the last 20 years, so I’m fast and quick, but the minute someone touches you, and you realize they’d like to take you down, well, my motto became just wait until we get these skates off!” (Laughs.)
Not a sport for shrinking violets, perhaps. Shrinking violents, maybe.
Does the sport require a certain type of person? “Anyone can do derby. There are people who have been sitting on the couch for 20 years, and some who’ve played hockey at a high level. That’s the best thing: Anyone can play.”
A sense of humor is also required. The players have ludicrously aggressive names, which is part of the fun; Barb’s name is a variant of “barbiturates” that we probably ought not print here.
The North Star Roller Girls’ events have names like “The Rocky Horror Derby Show” and players with names like “Marge Hadron Collider,” so you’re probably not surprised her team is the Kilmore Girls. (There’s also Delta Delta DI and the Violent Femmes.)
You have to ask if Barb would want her daughter out there in the circular scrum. For that matter, aren’t some kids sometimes mortified when their parents do things like this?
“She thinks it’s awesome,” Barb says, and adds: “Her roller derby name is Toxic Angel.”