Assistant Arts and Features Editor
Silence surrounds the parking lot of SK8 Depot, the only light coming from the door of the building. One by one, women pull into the parking lot, grab a bag out of their trunks and make their way inside.
The women walk into a brightly lit room with arcade games lining the wall and are greeted by a dozen others pulling skates on.
Soon they will start skating into each other, but the welcoming community of the Blue Ridge Rollergirls will remain.
Sheila “2Chainsawz” Coppersmith first discovered roller derby as a student at UNC Asheville.
“I went to a few roller derby games and was blown away,” Coppersmith said. “It looked aggressive, a little weird, inclusive, empowering and fun. I talked to some skaters at an after party and ordered skates and started practicing with them soon after.”
Roller derby is a full-contact sport. A game is played by two teams with up to 14 players each.
When the Rollergirls practice, they break into smaller groups to perfect their jamming. A jam consists of five skaters from each team on the track for two minutes.
After their warm up, they practice blocking. Two skaters line up together while a third tries to break them. This is essential to the sport. To score, a skater must lap members of the opposing team. To stop this, the team has to stop the jammer.
While one group is jamming, the rest of the women watch on and cheer when a player makes a particularly good move.
Roller derby is brutal. At these practices, skaters are on the go for two straight hours, stopping only for short water breaks.
These rigorous practices are three times a week, but often take more time than the designated training.
Marissa “Margaret Snatch’Her” Sherman Deziel said sometimes she forgets there is more going on in her life than just derby.
“The time commitments in this sport are brutal. Your nights and weekends are filled with practices, committee meetings and travel to and from games,” Sherman Deziel said. “It really is like having a second full-time job. We are required to attend at least 50 percent of practices each month, plus serve on a committee and participate in league and community events.”
Playing for nine years, derby became more than a sport for Sherman Deziel. She met her husband online after a mention of the sport and when they moved to Western North Carolina, she said she was comforted knowing there was a derby team waiting for her.
Because of the strong community roller derby builds, skaters often join the local league as soon as they move to a new place.
Carrie “Thea Nihilator” Plaxco, the UNCA honors program department assistant, moved to Asheville less than two years ago. She said the first thing she did when she got here was join the league.
In addition to three practices a week, skaters are encouraged to train using outside resources as well.
“Training is challenging and rewarding at the same time,” Plaxco said. “We currently practice at the rink three times a week plus we try to do a lot of cross-training off-skates. One of our sponsors, Beer City CrossFit, lets us go in there for CrossFit classes about every other week. It’s a challenge, but it’s also very rewarding to see yourself grow and develop. It’s not something that I recommend doing half-assed.”
The hard work of the Rollergirls has paid off. They are official members of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, based in Raleigh. The WFTDA website reports 320 teams registered around the world. Of these, the Rollergirls are ranked 38.
To keep skaters motivated, they are paired off into derby wives. Derby wives motivate skaters both on- and off-skates, keep them coming to practice even if they do not feel like it and sometimes even pick a skaters derby name, which is how Plaxco was named.
Derby names are meant to portray a skater’s personality. Coppersmith decided on hers based on her love for lumberjacks and what she calls terrible rap music.
For Plaxco and others to allow someone else to decide this name that will tell outsiders who they are is significant. In a sport filled with camaraderie, these are the closest relationships.
There is no set type of woman who plays roller derby. The inclusivity and community attracts women from all walks of life.
Sherman Deziel said she has played with women who are still in high school and women in their 50s. She said women who like a challenge are drawn to derby, regardless of age.
being part of the Rollergirls made her love her body for the first time.
“Roller derby truly shaped who I am,” Sherman Deziel said. “It helped me grow from a timid young lady to a take-charge woman and I am really proud of that.”
The Blue Ridge Rollergirls 2017 season starts on Feb. 19 with a $2 beer night. Home games are scheduled for March 26, April 30 and May 8. All home games are played at the U.S. Cellular Center.