Lauren Glass has an alter ego. As does Penelope Nederland and Shaun Lee. Roller derby within the Austin area has allowed women to freely express themselves through movement.
Lauren is typically called Pirata Roja, Roja for short. Shaun is Donna Pologize and Penelope is Fifi Nominon. All of these women have been able to fully come out of themselves and be who they wish to be.
“One thing I love about roller derby is that it takes people from saying, ‘Oh I can’t. I’m not good enough; not strong enough.” Roja says. “ And they are able to and capable and they are strong enough and its way beyond anything they ever imagined.”
According to USA roller skater, Fifi Nominon, roller derby is a sport most associated with women and the involvement of men has recently developed over the past seven years.
“It is one of the few sports that exists that started as a female sport and has grown massively in popularity as a female sport with a men’s sport coming after,” Fifi says.
Fifi and her team, Hustlers, scrimmages with a local men’s roller derby team, Austin Anarchy, and throughout the game there was an even playing field.
The women and men played equally and there was no buffering on skills based on genders.
“People usually think basketball, then women’s basketball, soccer then women’s soccer,” Fifi says. “When you think roller derby, you think women’s roller derby.”
For many current skaters, the thought of never being able to play roller derby was changed to action and success after joining.
Libby Heeren, also know as Tesla, remembers saying, “I could never do that, but it sounds like so much fun.”
Soon after that the never could turned into a possibility.
“I hadn’t been on roller skates in 20 years,” Tesla recalls after she bought her first skates from the skate shop Medusa’s. “Roller skating is addictive, even when it’s new and scary.”
After joining this past June, Tesla has experienced a complete turn around within her self confidence.
“I’ve fallen in love with my body, something I never thought I’d ever say,” Tesla says, “I look down at my legs now and think, ‘I love you, legs. You do amazing things.’”
Shaun Lee, also known as Donna Pologize, has experienced a similar increase in confidence due to her own roller derby involvement.
“I was always kind of the weirdo on the outskirts,” Donna says. “Then roller derby happened and I have never felt more at home. Derby is a sport, but it is also a family.”
According to Donna, roller derby has provided her with some of the most beautiful friendships imaginable.
Lauren Glass, known as Pirata Roja, has likewise developed extreme friendships through her own roller derby experience.
“I have about 300 Facebook friends that I actually want to hang out with and like.” Roja says. “Not everyone can say that.”
Through a difficult time with thyroid cancer, Roja experienced immense support and love from her roller derby friends.
“I had so much support. People came every day to drop things off at my door.” Roja recalls. “My entire room was filled with flowers and I have enough Sudoku puzzles to last me three lifetimes.”
The empowerment contagion has continued to the younger generations within the junior derby league.
Roja smiles as she talks about her own daughter’s experience in the blossoming from a quiet, reserved girl into a self-confident and self-secure young woman.
“The moment I realized the change within her was one day after school her teacher told me what had happened that day during recess,” Roja says with a smile.
Apparently that day during recess, there were two boys arguing; one was bullying the other.
Roja’s daughter, Madison Glass also known as Madi Vul, would not stand for it. She stomped her way over to the two young boys and stood between them.
Eyes piercing into the bully’s eyes, Madi Vul said, “If you want to pick on him, you’ll have to get through me first!”
It still makes Roja smile with pride to know that her daughter was able to find her inner confidence through roller derby.
“Oh my gosh! That’s my daughter!” Roja recalls. “She now thinks she’s kind of this superhero in herself too. She feels like she has the inner strength to not only stick up for herself, but for other people too!”
Roller Derby 101
Roller derby has multiple different strategies and rules, but here is the simplified version of the game as a whole.
A game, known as a bout, is played with five players from each team within the derby ring. One of the five from each team is the jammer; identified by a star on their helmet. Their main goal is to pass as many opposing players as possible. Each player the jammer passes is a point for their team. Another position, identified with a stripe on the helmet, is called the pivot. The pivot keeps an eye on the pack, and is a last defense. The other players are called the blockers and their main objective is to prevent the opposing jammer from passing them.
This group of eight blockers is called the pack and none of the skaters, aside from the jammer, is allowed to leave the pack passed 20 feet. All players must continue to skate around the rink and never skate the opposite direction.
If a player elbows another player, skates in the opposite direction or skates further than 20 feet, they receive a penalty and must go to the penalty box for a minute.
Still have questions or need more details? Visit the official rules of flat track roller derby at http://wftda.com/rules/20140301 from Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.
Written by Heather Leighton.