The Devil’s Derby
The Women of the Kill Devil Hills Roller Derby Brigade
Colington resident Tanya Hill was feeding turtles with her kids at Aviation Park when she happened to look over at the hockey rink. “I saw girls on roller skates and I knew I just had to be a part of it, too,” Hill remembers.
It wasn’t long before she had a brand new pair of roller skates and one other coveted possession: her derby name. Tanya took to the name Pain Angel on the rink and the moniker is now one she will turn her head for just as naturally as she will when hearing her real name.
Just four years after the inaugural Kill Devil Hills Roller Derby Brigade hit the local concrete, it is now 14 members strong and has a substantial local following. And in every sense, it is one “badass” group of women.
Bruises are their badges and getting knocked around and slammed to the ground just means they have to get up again and keep on playing. And that, they say, is what makes them stronger.
Kill Devil Hills’ derby girls range in age from 19 to their early 50s and are from every walk of life. They are of every body shape and athletic ability. They have a variety of reasons for putting themselves in a sport in which bruises, broken bones and some aggressive play is not only commonplace…it is welcome.
The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association explains one possible draw to the sport like this, “Roller derby is our escape from day-to-day life and our opportunity to embrace a tougher, edgier side of ourselves. When you step into the rink, your derby alter ego takes over.”
These strong local women are teachers, moms, nurses, EMTs, massage therapists, pet groomers, and more. But they all have one thing in common: They have built a team together that plays hard on the track, exudes toughness, and has a sisterhood that goes far beyond the skating rink. The local derby brigade has grown by leaps and bounds over the past few years and annually holds derby bouts here on the Outer Banks with dozens of local fans cheering them on. The team has fundraisers, sells team merchandise, and travels up and down the East Coast to compete. Its members also train with a team based in Boone, NC and are hoping to add a coach in the near future.
What it boils down to is this: The brigade may be a small-town derby team, but they have the desire and drive to make a name for themselves and continue to expand.
Life as a KDH Derby Girl
Meet Brandy Foard, aka Bash. A mother of two, her day job as owner of a gift shop, Plum Crazy, taps into her creative and business talents. And before she became a derby girl, her sons equated her role as solely being the person who cooked dinner, cleaned the house, and did the laundry.
Not anymore. Now she is a derby girl, and to a kid it doesn’t get much cooler than that. They have eaten up their mother’s new role and Foard loves it. “My kids see me as something more than a mom, someone who plays roller derby.” She said she likes that they see her as a strong figure now.
“That’s what I want them to seek out when they grow up – a woman who is strong,” she says. Tracie Porter (derby name Blazin Cajun) says roller derby is a very physical sport. One favorite quote is, “If roller derby was easy, it would be called football.”
“You make peace with armpits and bad breath,” Porter says while laughing. “But it empowers women in not only the physical sense. We learn what we are able to do, and we are all stronger in every aspect of our lives.”
Foard adds, “We may lay a chick out, but there are all good feelings afterward and in between jams.”
Internationally, roller derby is the fastest growing sport and no wonder. It is amazingly empowering to women and creates instant bonds that often last for years. It has at least here in Kill Devil Hills, where the teammates often gather at Tanya Hill’s home-based “Derby Den.” The den serves as a home base and locker room for teammates. On the walls are inspirational posters and a big-screen television to watch bouts and talk strategy. In the corner, Hill keeps what could easily be referred to as the team’s equipment hub – complete with wheels, skates, and other must-haves in the derby world.
“You cannot expect to be focused, intense or high energy if you are casual or low energy at practice,” a poster on the wall reads.
“How you practice today is how you will play tomorrow.”
The derby girls practice every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday at Aviation Park, and their workout is intense. Because their year-round practices are all held at the outdoor rink and in every possible climate, many teams they have competed against compliment them on their endurance and stamina. Another grueling condition that adds to their ruggedness is that they practice only on concrete, while other teams practice on more forgiving terrains.
“Falling on wood to us is like falling on a mattress,” says Lauren Feeney, (derby name Feendish). Feeney works as an emergency medical technician in Albemarle Hospital’s emergency room. She was recruited to the team several years ago and has completely embraced the roller derby lifestyle. “We are hit, we land on the concrete and love it.” Bruises, cuts, and broken bones are just par for the course.
As everyone in the derby world knows, when the girls get hurt out on the rink, they don’t tell anyone because they want to keep playing. The bruises they get are badges. “If a derby girl doesn’t get back up, you know they are really hurt,” says Feeney. Porter can attest to that. During a bout in Kinston, she took a hit and very clearly broke her wrist. So what did she do? Just tightened up her wrist guard and kept on skating. The arm cast could wait.
“Everyone skates with injuries,” she said. “We just suck it up.”
Jammers, Blockers, and Bouts…and “Fresh Meat”
Roller derby is a full-contact sport, and a bout includes two 30-minute halves made up of jams that can last up to two minutes each. During a jam, each team receives points when their jammer covers a lap ahead of opposing team members on the track. Skating backwards is allowed as long as it is in “derby direction,” or counter-clockwise. The object of the game is to score the most points.
During a bout, five players from each team are on the track: the jammer, three blockers, and a pivot. The pivot and the blockers make up the pack and work together to stop the opposing team’s jammer from breaking through the pack and scoring while helping their own jammer advance. While it is a full-contact sport, throwing elbows, tripping, and clothes-lining opponents will send a player to the penalty box. Charging from behind or making a block above the shoulder will do the same.
But there are plenty of legal ways to “lay a chick out” during a bout, and while rough play on the rink is encouraged, teams quickly become friends following bouts and often attend after-parties together.
Interested in trying out for Kill Devil Hills Roller Derby Brigade? “Fresh Meat,” as new players are often referred to, are welcome to attend a practice to try out some skates and have some veteran derby girls show them how it’s done. facebook.com/outerbanks.rollerderby ♦