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

The recruits this year didn't hold back. One rookie hurt her arm so badly she needed a sling. Another fell and fractured her vertebrae, putting her in a body brace for a minimum of three months. And no one will forget the day when, during a scrimmage, everyone fell into a hog pile and blood oozed out. "We've got a broken finger!" someone yelled. Spectators claimed they could see the bone.

Each evening the women go home sore. They get what's called fishnet burn—waffle-lined skin scrapes from sliding across the floor in tights. Injured players tape up their feet and limp around their offices. Many have bruises bigger than softballs hidden underneath work suits. They do all this and they don't even know if they will make a team. Out of the 20 hopefuls at boot camp, this year only 14 will be drafted. The rest will stay on as reserve players in case of absence or injury during the season.

"It doesn't matter, it's just so awesome," says Sarne, as she sits looking very professional in Sen. Jim Metzen's office, where she works as a legislative assistant. "It's just a lot of really strong, beautiful women being both of those things at the same time. Who wouldn't want to be a part of that?"

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


After she was cut from tryouts, Sarne asked to train as a referee; she'd do anything to stay involved with the league. While other refs-in-training sat on the sidelines watching, Sarne voluntarily did every single boot camp exercise in the hope that the selection committee would notice.

But as recruits talked about the different teams they could be drafted to, Sarne couldn't help but feel left out. "I was really tired and practice was frustrating," she says. "All the other refs were sitting in the corner, but I was still doing all the drills, and I was starting to regret staying. I started to think, 'Maybe I didn't make the right choice.'"

On the last day of practice as the women nervously awaited instruction, the coaches made a surprise announcement. They had started the draft with 20, but now there would be 21: Sarne had earned a spot on the roster. "She worked so hard and so long. Basically, she was getting to the point where she actually improved more than some of the other girls did," says Spike. "I mean, she didn't make the cut on that one day during tryouts, but what she did during boot camp is exactly what we are looking for, that kind of drive."

As the girls hugged and congratulated Sarne, a boot camp coach interrupted. "Okay," he said. "Now let's go beat each other up."

IT'S SEPTEMBER 4, and while the rest of the world is listening to John McCain accept the Republican nomination for president, the Roller Girls are enduring their own form of political theater. Tonight is the draft party, and the new rookies will find out which teams, if any, drafted them.

Outside O'Gara's, Lacey can't stop grinning. She steps off her bike, in stiletto heels, and confesses: She knows she made a team.

Inside, the women have ditched their dirty practice gear for dresses and skirts. A goofy man in a green blazer and red pants is onstage handing out rookie awards and making jokes about the Rockits all being pregnant. From the other side of the room, one Rockit yells: "Yeah, that's because we're so hot people want to screw us."

One by one, each recruit, all a little slimmer than they were at tryouts, ascends to the stage. Lacey, the league's second draft pick, stands at the microphone and announces herself as "L'exi-cuter." For nearly a minute, the veterans stare at her as she stands awkwardly, waiting for a team to claim her. It's just one more form of Roller Girl hazing—even though Lacey has made a team, she's still a rookie. Finally, two Atomic Bombshells come onstage to welcome her. As they hug their new teammate and hand her a bag of goodies, the crowd erupts with laughter.

Later, Alfonso does her first Roller Girl duty as "Rita Rawkus" of the Garda Belts—she takes a shot of whiskey onstage. Then it's Kelley's turn to announce herself as "Skullateral Damage." Her new teammate Sarne goes next. Beaming with pride, she tells the crowd to call her "Diamond Rough," the newest member of the Bombshells.

As the alcohol flowed, it suddenly occurred to me why I really love the Roller Girls, and it certainly wasn't because of my dreadful experience training with the team. Ever since I left tryouts with a bruise the size of a grapefruit and called in sick to work the following day because I couldn't walk, I had been a little wary of them.

But as I watched them celebrate their new members and prepare for the October 18 season opener, it all made sense. These women are hardcore, and not just because they beat each other up on roller skates. From their ramshackle beginning in 2005 to the professional athletes they are today, people have always found the Roller Girls appealing for the same reason: They make no apologies for being themselves.

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