Skate or die: Life with the MN Roller Girls

The rough-and-tumble Roller Girls punch, smack, and kick their way to victory at the rink

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, there's something you need to know about me: I'm a klutz.

I'm about as athletic as a wall. I stumbled into writing after being cut from the softball, volleyball, basketball, swimming, and cheerleading teams all in the same year. I have been known to trip over my own feet and occasionally walk into glass doors. The last time I roller skated was in junior high.

But I'm obsessed with the Minnesota Roller Girls. If I were a lesbian, I'd want to date one. They have fun, bold names like Dixxxie Wrect (say it out loud), a killer fashion sense, and they're scrappy—they don't mind getting down and dirty now and again.

Hell on wheels: Back (left to right): Scootaloo as Lindsey Lyford and rookie Lisa Sarne. 
Front (left to right): Rookies Janis Kelley, Carolin Alfonso, and Alex Lacey.
Kris Drake
Hell on wheels: Back (left to right): Scootaloo as Lindsey Lyford and rookie Lisa Sarne. Front (left to right): Rookies Janis Kelley, Carolin Alfonso, and Alex Lacey.
A rookie who calls herself "Ice Pack" shows off a bruise she earned in boot camp
Kris Drake
A rookie who calls herself "Ice Pack" shows off a bruise she earned in boot camp

Normally, I think sports are a drag, but at that first Roller Girls bout, I couldn't take my eyes off the teams of sexpots whirling around the track and throwing themselves into a muddle of human flesh. They were vixens on roller skates out for blood, and they looked damn hot doing it.

The great thing about derby is that it is one of few women's sports that combine sanctioned, violent aggression with unabashed female sexuality. I wanted in. As one of my favorite sayings goes: Women can do everything men can, and they can do it in heels, or, in this case, fishnets and roller skates.

The idea of being on the team excited me so much that my complete lack of any physical coordination slipped my mind as I signed up for tryouts. I started dreaming up Roller Girl names and headed to the mall with an expense account to make my otherwise girly image as badass as possible. As one new recruit put it, "Roller Girls are like the cool girls in high school that everyone wants to be, except they have tattoos."

When the day came, I put on a purple tank top with skulls and lightening bolts, combed my hair in flirty pigtails, and rushed out the door. I was ready to kick some ass.

"GET YOUR GEAR ON and line up now," a short, stocky man named Spike screamed at the bench. Girls scrambled to stand, rolling frantically across the floor of the Roy Wilkins Auditorium, moving fast to strap on elbow- and kneepads. "Did you practice your crossovers?" a nervous 21-year-old named Alex Lacey asks her friend as she laces up expensive black derby skates.

It's Sunday, June 29, and tryouts for the Minnesota Roller Girls 2008-09 season have just begun. As I look at the ratty pink wheels I found online for $40 and wonder what a crossover is, I can't help but wonder: What have I gotten myself into?

I skate over to where the women are lining up, number 34 pinned to my back, my stomach doing back flips. These girls had been practicing for months. I had done one skate around my block in Uptown the night before.

"I said NOW," Spike roared, causing the girl next to me to trip.

Within seconds we were sprinting around the track. When some contenders got cocky and started singing, "We Are the Champions," a coach gave them an earful: "If you can sing, you're not working hard enough!"

We weaved through cones and slammed ourselves onto the ground, just to get up, sprint to the other side of the room, and do it all over again. We sprinted for hours. We grunted through sit-ups, pushups, flutter kicks, and mountain climbers; we did the Grapevine and yoga. We did all of this over and over again on fucking roller skates.

One skater fell and sprained her ankle. Another was tending to a bloody gash on her leg. And all I could do was pray the same would happen to me so I could rest. In agony I looked up at a coach, pleading with my eyes for the day to be over. "If you don't like this, you might as well quit now," she screamed. "This is what all our practices are like."

By the end of tryouts, one woman puked; another walked out of the arena, never to return, and someone else started to cry. I lay on the cold floor, relieved it was over. I was too tired to rehydrate; muscles I didn't even know I had were twitching uncontrollably. My wet face stuck to the floor, my new shirt was soaked in sweat, and my rock-star pigtails were flattened by perspiration.

"What have we gotten ourselves into?" a girl next to me panted as she dumped water over her head. "This is hell."

AFTER NEARLY FOUR HOURS of physical torture, we were told to stand in a line facing the wall, our backs to the coaches, like bandits awaiting a firing squad. Hardly anyone spoke as we waited nearly 20 minutes to find out if the last four hours of our lives were worth it. Twenty of the 43 women had earned the honor of going to boot camp, where they would train to become a Minnesota Roller Girl.

Carolin Alfonso, a 26-year-old recent graduate from Hamline University, was surprised when they called her forward. "I was just so tired. That was the most intense physical activity I have ever experienced. I played hockey in high school and I don't remember anything comparable to that. I couldn't believe it. I heard my number and I heard nothing else for three minutes afterwards."

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