Tag: sports

Austin Roller Derby: Texas Rollergirls Jam Way to Success

By: Nick Castillo, Sara Eunice Martinez, Kaylee Nemec


Austin roller derby scene emerges in 2001, leads to sport’s revival

Hundreds of people stand outside a southeast Austin business complex on Feb 13. Inside lays ‘The Blood Shed’ – an old warehouse building modified into a roller derby arena, where the Texas Rollergirls prepare to kick off their 14th season.

Fans cram into ‘The Blood Shed’ – standing or sitting on the concrete floor, searching for a spot to see the action, music blares, an enthusiastic emcee named ‘Chip Queso’ pumps the crowd up, and all while the Hotrod Honeys ‘bout against the Honky Tonk Heartbreakers.


Julie Hunter, owner of Medusa Skates in Austin and roller derby player for TXRD – a banked roller derby league – said the players feed off the atmosphere surrounding the games.

“When we have a ton of people it feels great,” Hunter said. “I’m really camera shy, but when I get out there I’m like ‘fuck yeah. This is awesome.’ I love it. I eat it up.”

Roller derby began in Chicago in 1935, but Austin led to the sports’ revival in 2001.

Austin has emerged as a major roller derby scene with multiple leagues including the Texas Rollergirls, who participate in the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, and the TXRD – a league that participates in banked roller derby.

“It’s a really big scene,” Hunter said. “This is where the revival of roller derby got started back.”

Since the scene’s development it has added junior leagues, recreational leagues and even high schools have added the sport. There are even men’s leagues developing in Austin.

Film By: Sara Eunice Martinez

The game itself is fast, vicious and sometimes dangerous. The players say it’s a mix of football and speed skating. Two teams play in a game called a ‘bout,’ which consists of two 30 minute halves. Each team has five players on the track – one jammer, one pivot and three blockers, who help their jammer through the pack and try to prevent the other team’s jammer from scoring. The jammer scores after they make it through the opponent’s blockers and are credited points for each pass made within a two-minute period called a ‘jam’ during each half.

Jessica Duran, who goes by Virgo Vengeful and plays for the Hell Marys in the Texas Rollergirls league, said she’s seen the Austin competition increase during her 10 years of participating in the sport.

“The skill level has gotten higher and higher,” Duran said. “Everyone is getting better every year. So every year, I think I learn something new and I also really challenge my brain. As far as the game goes, the strategy is super important to the sport and learning how to tune into it.”

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Duran added that the Austin scene is empowering because of the physical nature of the sport and the ability to speak your mind within leagues.

“It’s very empowering, definitely,” Duran said. “It’s a lot of very opinionated females, which is great. We might butt heads, but it’s also empowering that you can speak your mind and you’re encouraged to be you. You’re a female who cares? When someone says ‘you hit like a girl.’ ‘Yeah, I do hit like a girl. I hit very hard. You wish you could hit like that.'”

“We very much empower every girl that comes in from juniors all the way up to our rec program to our premier programs.”

Miyah Calhoon, who plays for the Honkey Tonk Heartbreakers in the Texas Rollergirls league and goes by Fender Bender, said seeing the growth of the sport down to the youth level has been special.

“It warms my heart, it really does.” Calhoon said. “To see the growth – there’s this empowerment aspect to it too … To see juniors skating today, it really does warm my heart.”

The fans cheer as the final whistle blows on Feb. 13. The Hotrod Honeys claim their first win of the season – a 293-108 clobbering of the Honkey Tonk Heartbreakers.

Both teams share high-fives despite the battle each fought. They all share in the same fun the Austin roller derby scene has created.

“It really feels like a family,” said Diane Sanson, who participates in the Texas Rollergirls recreational league. “They’re like distant relatives that are way above you, but they’re still encouraging you and telling you ‘you will get there.’ Telling you how to get there. It is more of a family. We help each other out. It’s not discouraging even if your team loses.”

Photos by: Kaylee Nemec

Sports Injuries and Recovery


Katie Watson came to The University of Texas with dreams to make it to Track and Field Nationals, but due to repetitive injuries, the student athlete was cut from the team in her senior year.

“I had made running who I was,” said Watson.” “It was what defined me and that’s what I wanted with my college career.”

After suffering from multiple stress fractures in her femur, Watson, like many other athletes had to face an uncharted road to personal recovery, a journey that doesn’t always guarantee the full comeback for athletes.

According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, while college athletes are generally healthy members of society, participation in competitive sports often brings the unavoidable risk of injury. But when one instance can literally take a player out of the game for, months, years or even permanently, what is the emotional damage an athlete must face while also dealing with their physical injuries?

Heidi Armstrong, owner of Injured Athletes Toolbox uses her own experiences to work with injured athletes and provide them with the tools for coping through feelings of anger, frustration and despair that often accompany the physical components of a sports related injury.

“I have unfortunately and fortunately had a lot of experience with physical injury,” said Armstrong. “I was a professional mountain bike racer about 15 years ago, had a bad mountain bike crash and I just fell into this really bad pit of despair. I lost my identity.”

After realizing she couldn’t do it herself, Armstrong sought help beyond physical therapy and met with a psychotherapist to work out her frustrations in productive ways. She later found that her experience could be of help to others in a similar situation and spent 12 years supporting athletes who simply needed to “talk with someone who’d been in that hole before.”

Armstrong suffered another injury in 2010 after a bad ski racing accident and decided to spend her 13 month recovery period researching the mental effects on injured athletes and how they described their suffering.

“I found that no matter a person’s age, sex, sport, or level of experience in the sport, the words that people described for their suffering were the same,” said Armstrong. “The most common word to come up was disconnection. Not only disconnection from their body, but also from the teammate’s social network and things like that.”

Watson’s recovery left her in a similar situation of disconnection.

“It’s a business so coaches have to focus on the better athletes who are getting them points,” said Watson.” “A lot of it was kind of put on me to decide what was wrong [with my injury] and I was kind of thrown on the back burner.”

Armstrong saw this common but often overlooked struggle for athletes and used her newfound knowledge to create Injured Athletes Toolbox.

“I thought back on all of the years I was helping people informally and providing a support they needed while injured, and those things became my services,” said Armstrong. “So through all of this I’ve helped people from all over the world and it’s been a really fulfilling experience.”

But while external injuries are often to blame, concussions brought on by sports are often a far more dangerous culprit to the student athlete. In a span of one year, 13.1 percent of women student athletes and 19.4 percent of male student athletes reported suffering from a concussion.

Former UT baseball player, Benjamin Kennedy suffered a concussion last fall during a scrimmage and described his recovery to be a very tricky process.

“At first there was nothing I could do for it,” said Kennedy. “Doctors told me the best thing I could do was lay around and after a month passed I was not feeling any better.”

Kennedy went on to see a concussion specialist who later diagnosed a problem in his vestibular system that deals with balance and vertigo.

“Everyone can see you break your arm or pull a muscle but a concussion is something that outsiders cannot identify just by looking at you,” said Kennedy. This kind of sent me into a depression because my brain was injured and I wasn’t sure how I would ever be normal again.”

Kennedy attributed his successful recovery to the support of friends and family who were there to help him out. Like Armstrong, he believes the emotional support of others helped him to overcome the injuries and their mental effects.

As for Watson, her injuries came as a blessing in disguise. “I’ll be running for A&M next year and it was because of the support of my previous coach and friends who encouraged me and told me I was going to be fine,” said Watson. “It has definitely been a growing experience every time I’ve been injured.”


Flyboarding — it’s a thing, right here in Austin

By Barbi Barbee, ChinLin Pan, Alisa Semiens

You bike alongside Lady Bird Lake, and all of a sudden, you see a guy standing on a board up in the air with water spurting out from under his feet. What the heck is he doing?

You’re actually witnessing flyboarding in action.

Flyboarding, also called water jetpacking, is a relatively new water sport about 3 years old. Someone stands on a water jet pack — the Flyboard — connected by a firehose to a jet ski, driven by another person. The water pressure from the jet ski moves the person on the Flyboard in the air.

French jet ski racing champion Franky Zapata invented the Flyboard in spring of 2011. Flyboarding has grown popular in the U.S. The balance and ride of the Flyboard is often compared to a snowboard. Photo by Barbi Barbee.

French jet ski racing champion Franky Zapata invented the Flyboard in spring of 2011. Flyboarding has grown popular in the U.S. The balance and ride of the Flyboard is often compared to a snowboard. Photo by Barbi Barbee.

“There is nothing else on your mind, except for what you are doing and just how much fun you are having,” said Damone Rippy, the youngest professional flyboarder to compete in the 2013 Flyboard World Cup at age 15.

Since its inception, there have been a few Flyboard World championships. Rippy finished in fourth place at the 2013 Flyboard World Cup in Doha, Qatar and in first place at the North American Championship in Toronto.

To train for these championships, Rippy practices about four to five times a week at Aquafly where he works.

“[There is] a certain training regimen that I have to complete before the day is over and that either comes to landing a certain amount of backflips in the air or doing double backflips or doing a certain new trick, or keep on trying it,” Rippy said.

Because the sport is so new, one of Rippy’s coaches Christopher Vance explained that the community of flyboarders is like a family.

“We have what’s called a flyboard family. Everybody pretty much knows everybody at this point,” Vance said. “The competitions that we go to, we all get together and have fun, we go out and drink and eat together. But when the competition starts, it’s very competitive. Not cutthroat, but everybody wants to win.”

French jet ski racing champion Franky Zapata invented the Flyboard in spring of 2011. Now, the sport has taken root in Austin.

UT alumnus Ed Hughes owns Fly Lake Austin, one of several rental locations in Texas that instructs people how to flyboard.

Fly Lake Austin owner Ed Hughes dives under water using his Flyboard, which uses water jets to propel riders to perform a number of trick, such as diving or back flips. Photo by Barbi Barbee.

Fly Lake Austin owner Ed Hughes dives under water using his Flyboard, which uses water jets to propel riders to perform a number of trick, such as diving or back flips. Photo by Barbi Barbee.

The first time Hughes flyboarded was January of 2013 when the temperature was about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. He immediately fell in love with the sport after reading about it on the Internet.

Since he opened Fly Lake Austin last year, Hughes has taught people of all ages, ranging from 6 years old to 80 years old, and people who loved sports or couldn’t swim.

Besides the Flyboard, people can try flyboarding on a Jetovator, another water sports accessory that allows the flyboarder to redirect water and propel and elevate into the air.

“The Jetovator is a very similar apparatus. It flies on water power from a jet ski,” Hughes said. “It’s more like a motorcycle than a board that you stand on. It also has to hand controllers that the person on the Jetovator controls the up and down with that. There’s a little more control for the rider on that.”

Hughes teaches with both the Flyboard and the Jetovator. While some people prefer one or the other, most people like using both.

Hughes has seen flyboarding become what it is today and how popular it is — or lack thereof — among Austinites.

Hughes soars above Lake Austin on the Flyboard. The Flyboard can send riders over 30 feet above water. Hughes uses a 60 feet firehose, which allows him to elevate higher in the air. Photo by ChinLin Pan.

Hughes soars above Lake Austin on the Flyboard. The Flyboard can send riders over 30 feet above water. Hughes uses a 60 feet firehose, which allows him to elevate higher in the air. Photo by ChinLin Pan.

“People are becoming more and more familiar with this,” Hughes said. “Yet every weekend, I see people that say they have never seen anything like this before. Or they’ve only seen it on the Internet.”

Hughes believes some people stray from flyboarding because it appears dangerous or they feel they cannot grasp the Flyboard or Jetovator.

“A lot of people are intimidated by these machines, but they’re easier than wakeboarding and most people are up and flying in two to to five minutes once you get them out on the water,” Hughes said.

Like most sports, Rippy says, people can get hurt, but it also takes time “to learn the techniques and get in the zone.”

Rippy says that his young age helps him avoid injury in competitions.

“I can bend easier than some of the people and I heal very fast when I get hurt,” Rippy said.

For people who are not professional flyboarders, the risk of injury is low, when they are in capable hands of an instructor. Hughes encourages people of all ages to try if they’re interested because “it’s way easier than it looks.”

Roller Derby: The Sport of Entertainment