Brash girls clash on the derby track
Photo by Randy Litzinger
By day, 26-year-old Alex Massey works in retail.
By night, she takes on a different persona.
She laces her skates, clips on her helmet, bites down on her mouth guard and becomes “Jackson Villain,” a member of the NOVA Roller Derby league.
On Sunday, Jackson warmed up with the rest of the SuperNOVAS, the league’s first Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby travel team at the Rollerworks Family Skating Center in Bealeton.
She was nervous, but then again, she’s always nervous before a bout.
They were taking on the 301 Derby Dames from southern Maryland, who had made the hour and a half trek to compete in what would also be their first bout.
As the lights dimmed over the rink, the SuperNOVAs skated in a pack around and around.
The announcers would call the derby names of the skaters as they broke free to wave to their family and friends.
Jackson Villain, who took her name from her childhood home of Jacksonville, Fla., was introduced to the world of roller derby through a co-worker who convinced her to come out to a bout. She was hooked.
She bought her quad skates and set to improve the skills necessary for the sport. One of the challenges she faced, which many new skaters face, is getting used to skating – and skating well – on skates that aren’t inline roller blades.
The sport of roller derby dates back to the 1930s, when Leo Seltzer concocted the idea of a roller skating marathon, according to the National Roller Skating Museum. The marathon came during a time of walk-a-thons and dance-a-thons.
On Aug. 13, 1935, 25 teams of two competed to be the first to skate 3,000 miles around a track. Clarice Martin and Bernie McKay won the first marathon on Sept. 22 and were one of the nine teams from the original 25 to finish the event.
The event was a success and a sports reporter suggested adding contact to the sport leading to the evolution of a marathon event to the sport that exists today in which two teams of five skate around the track scoring points as they pass opposing players.
The sport grew in popularity and by 1940; there was roller derby in 50 cities with more than 5 million fans, according to the roller skating museum.
Its popularity dwindled after World War II until the 2000s, when skaters in Austin, Texas revived derby as an organized sport.
According to Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, by 2010, there were 450 teams across the country.
The NOVA Roller Derby got its start in 2011.
“Mary Lou Wreck’Em,” whose human name is Julia Bergeman, was one of the original eight skaters of NOVA Roller Derby. Her name is a tribute to Mary Lou Retton, who scored a perfect 10 at the 1984 Olympics.
Mary Lou Wreck’Em, 37, was also a competitive gymnast and her jersey number is 10.
“I had little skating experience outside of childhood birthday parties,” she said before the bout on Sunday. She has served as the president of the league and the philanthropy coordinator.
Every bout each month designates a charity that the league donates to. The teams ask its fans to bring donations to the bouts for the monthly charity partners.
“Our motto from the beginning is ‘skate hard, give back,’” Wreck’Em said. Though she had been skating for four years, this was her first time competing in a Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby bout.
The three home teams – the Vineyard Vixens, the Beltway Betties, and the Metro Misfits – play by Modern Athletic Derby Endeavor, or MADE, rules. WFTDA rules are slightly different and the game requires a little more strategy and is slower than a MADE bout, according to Jackson Villain.
The team has been practicing together for two months leading up to the start of the season.
The league normally plays at the Michael & Son SportsPlex in Dulles and practices at Skate and Fun Zone in Manassas.
The organization has more than 100 members so “every walk of life is represented,” Mary Lou Wreck’Em said.
“There’s something in it for everyone,” Mary Lou Wreck’Em said. For the mother of two, it’s the ability to show her children that she can fall down and get back up again.
“So everyone gets something a little different out of it, whether it’s the ability to go out there and smash people or the ability to give back to the community, or the ability to use some of there maybe hobbies as far photography and art. It’s a very inclusive organization,” she said.
For “Hot Bunz,” alias Ashley Hubbard, joining NOVA Roller Derby was a way to get into shape after having a child. She had a blip of interest years before she joined, but she finally joined last year.
“It was all very serendipitous,” Hot Bunz said. Just as her interest in the sport returned, the league happened to be holding its Fresh Meat Boot Camp.
“I did it and it was super fun and it was exceptionally hard,” said Hot Bunz, who hadn’t skated since second grade.
She went through two rounds of the boot camp, before being invited to a team.
The league restructured its novice programs and now offers essential skills classes year-round for people to drop in on instead of waiting for the 12-week boot camp to come around again.
For Hot Bunz, who is a self-described perfectionist, roller derby allows her to put that trait aside.
“There’s not expectations that you’re going to be great,” the 29-year-old said. “I think it has to do with the fact that it’s a small emerging sport because it’s addicting.”
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