“Roller Derby girls aren’t wimps. It is definitely a lifestyle. You have to commit to it and it’s all a part of you.” Glenna Johnson was featured in a “Secret Lives” story about the Tallahassee Rollergirls in a previous Local Routes. It was an interesting story, and now here’s a follow up exploring a bit more about the organization.
Roller Derby is a tough contact sport, but for many of the participants, it’s not just a hobby – it’s a lifestyle.
“We started the Derby League in 2006. So, we have girls from all different walks of life, all different ages, school backgrounds… all that kind of stuff,” says Brittany Rickman, who joined the Tallahassee Rollergirls as “Brat” in 2010. “The typical reaction is ‘Oh, is that the thing where you elbow people and you drag them down and pull them by the hair?’ And you want to entertain that and be like ‘Yeah, it is!’ because, you know, that’s exciting to them. But we’ve also worked really hard to try to get away from that image.”
Roller Derby is a real sport with rules and practices. It can be rough and aggressive, but it’s part of a world organization (WFTDA) with practice space and a website.
In a nutshell, there are four blockers from each team on the track at once, and one jammer from each team who are the point-scorers. The goal is for the jammer to get past not only her own blockers, but also the other team’s blockers who are trying to stop her. If she gets past them and all the way around the track and starts passing the opposing blockers again, she scores a point.
Chelsea Marshall-Hirvela, also known as “Freak Show”, was coaching junior roller derby which is quite different from adult roller derby before she moved up to Tallahassee. “It changed how I played on the track and how I played off the track because I wanted to be a good role model,” she says. “This last year in Tallahassee, I’m in the best shape of my life because it’s competitive. The level of competitiveness here… it was new to me when I came to Tallahassee. I want to be the best teammate that I can and if that means going out and running a ridiculous amount before practice, and coming to all the practices so I can be the best teammate to my teammates…”
When Brittany Rickman started playing derby, she’d just turned 20 years old and was an undergrad. “I didn’t know who I was in general as a person at all, and I was able to join a group of men and women – that was really confidence-building and helped me be very aware of myself and helped me work towards my goals. Also, just staying very physically active and healthy because when you’re playing for a sport, you not only have to work out for yourself to keep yourself healthy, but you’re also working for your team.” She paused a moment, reflecting. “I don’t know where I’d be without derby because it’s been a journey over the last five years. It’s helped me professionally, mentally, physically – in all ways.”
Tallahassee Rollergirls has boot camps on Sundays from 9am to noon at the FAMU Rec Center. The first one is free and they will provide pads and skates. Just show up with a bottle, mouth guard, and comfortable exercise clothing. You’ll sign some paperwork. They’ll gear you up and teach you the fundamentals.
Glenna Johnson, aka “Fired Up” gives the rundown, “They teach you how to stand on one foot, how to get hit, how to fall so you don’t get hurt. And you have to take a basic skills test and you have to take a written test on the whole rules of derby because there are lots of rules. And then you have to take a speed test. The speed test is going around this track twenty-seven times in five minutes. It is not easy and you have to work very hard.”
“We are, like, very strong, independent women but we’re not scary! We’re just everyday people. We have everyday jobs. And we do this for fun. This is our passion. This is why we’re here,” adds Chelsea Marshall-Hirvela.
Brittany Rickman invites you to give it a try. “We’re having fun. We want you to come have fun with us – whether it’s as a fan, as a skater, as a volunteer. You know, we’re always looking to keep making connections. It it’s a business owner, charities, non-profits… We just want to connect with Tallahassee and keep the sport and keep the city growing.”
Please note that since this interview was done, the day and time of boot camps has changed. Visit TallahasseeRollergirls.com for up-to-date information on the team and how to get involved!