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Whidbey Island roller girls take pride in pain

The Whidbey Island Roller Girls take a quick pause during warm-up drills at a February practice in the Roller Barn. From the left, Marissa “Taaksik Kupkaek” Wilkins, Julia “Effin’ Magic” Paff, “Cynister Sister,” Erica “Bonnie Beatdown” Sierra and Melinda “Taelor Swiftkick” Nelson. - Katie McVicker/Whidbey News-Times
The Whidbey Island Roller Girls take a quick pause during warm-up drills at a February practice in the Roller Barn. From the left, Marissa “Taaksik Kupkaek” Wilkins, Julia “Effin’ Magic” Paff, “Cynister Sister,” Erica “Bonnie Beatdown” Sierra and Melinda “Taelor Swiftkick” Nelson.
— image credit: Katie McVicker/Whidbey News-Times

The sport requires its athletes to have not just one, but two types of medical insurance. Its players wear helmets, knee pads, elbow pads, tailbone pads and mouth guards and are known by tough alter egos. Its fans must be 18 or older to sit in the front row, which players call “suicide seating,” because, well, “they might get a girl thrown into them.” And yet the sport’s participants revel in the brutality of it all.

The Whidbey Island Roller Girls officially formed last April. Though there are men’s leagues, roller derby is infamously known as a women’s contact sport and involves two teams skating around an oval roller rink in formation. Points are scored when a specific player (the jammer) from each team laps the opposing team’s members. In order to stop the jammers from progressing, the athletes use their arms, hips and fancy footwork to trip them up — literally. Though there are illegal hits, the plays out on the rink are merciless.

“Pretty much anything goes,” Whidbey Island Roller Girl Erica Sierra (aka “Bonnie Beatdown”) said. “Everybody’s got bruises, scars and scabs.”

Sierra has been on the team since it formed and describes the sport as a mix between football and hockey. Physicality seems to be the big draw.

“After we started doing contact drills, I was like ‘Oh yeah,’ I want to do this,” player Brandy Johnson (aka “Nana Nana Bruise You”) said. “It’s my own personal form of anger management.”

Johnson said she’s enjoying interacting with the other women, though the thought of serious injury does make her a little nervous. Since the team’s inception, two of Johnson’s close friends -: CLEANED :- have broken their ankles, with one having multiple screws placed in her joint.

“It’s like my wolf pack is slowly going down,” she said. “I hope I’m not next.”

Team president Kristen Harrison said getting into training after an injury is one of the toughest things for the women to do.

“The challenging part is getting over your own obstacles, coming back from an injury and getting your body to do something your head doesn’t want to do.”

Harrison would know. She has broken her ankle, finger and torn a tendon in her leg in play. But despite the pain, she said not being able to participate for weeks at a time is miserable and the benefits outweigh any amount of discomfort.

“It makes you push yourself to do new things and you get to meet an incredible group of women and build something together,” she said.

Because the team is relatively new, Harrison said they’re still working to build their skill set. So far they’ve only played a few bouts, but they plan to hold more intra-league bouts at home to get more people involved. The girls’ most recent match on Jan. 29 drew a large crowd.

“It looked like we had more people come out than there was seating,” Sierra said.

The girls’ home rink, the Roller Barn in Oak Harbor, isn’t a standard size so they often have a difficult time persuading other teams to come play them at home. Through ticket sales and sponsorships, they’re currently trying to raise money to put toward a new facility.

The team practices every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. A “Fresh Meat” meeting is

scheduled for March 3 at 6 p.m. at the Roller Barn for interested women.
Harrison directs people to whidbeyderby.wordpress.com or Facebook for information.

“I’d recommend this for everyone,” she said.

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