‘Down and Dirty’: Empowering women through contact sports

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A women’s sports league in the capital city is pushing boundaries on eight wheels.  

“Yes, I play roller derby.” is a response many women probably say after people are surprised to learn that they play the hard-core sport

“Everybody is alarmed that I do it because I am a 4′ 10″ children’s librarian,” says Elizabeth Whitsett. “People just kind of think that I’m not that person because I don’t look big and scary and tough and everything.” 

Elizabeth Whitsett, known as Blazen TheaTrix on the rink, has been skating with the league for over a year. She’s at the fresh meat level and announces at the home games for Rock Town Roller Derby.

To clarify, the “fresh meat” term is used for beginner players who have yet to pass their minimum skill requirements set by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA)

“People tend to think it’s a show, that’s it’s not real. That it’s something put on as a performance art kind of thing. This is a down and dirty hard-core sport. There is no faking out there, I can promise you that,” says Blazen TheaTrix.  

What is roller derby? Good question.  

Roller derby is a full-contact sport on quad skates. Players wear mouth guards, knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards and high impact helmets. It’s played by two teams of five members roller skating counter-clockwise around a track. There are two 30-minute periods to a game and is played in a series of jams that last for two minutes unless cut off prematurely.   

How do you play?  

In a nutshell, the two jammers can score points during each two-minute jam. The blockers, four to each team, try to knock down the opposing jammer to keep them from scoring. The jammer makes a point for each hip they pass of an opposing blocker. There is a long list of rules, you can read more here.   

Who plays roller derby? A better question. 

“Just being a part of this league, you meet so many different people. People you probably would never run into. There are people from all walks of life: teachers, eye doctors, speech-language pathologists. There’s people that work in insurance and the military,” says Blazen TheaTrix. 

Established in 2006, Rock Town Roller Derby is registered with WFTDA, has members from all over central Arkansas including Little Rock, North Little Rock, Benton, Bryant, Cabot, Conway, and Malvern areas, and even Greenbriar and Batesville. The league is made up of two teams, the Breakneck Brawlers and Queens of the Rink. They hold practice twice a week at Arkansas Skatium on Bowman Road. 

“I would invite any woman to come try it. We have bumps, bruises, and breaks and we all come back because we love it so much,” says Wendy Pascoe. 

A veteran on the track, Wendy Pascoe– aka Terrin Skirtz– began playing 10 years ago after being introduced to the sport by a co-worker in Eugene, Oregon.  

“Roller derby pushes you to do things you don’t think you can do. And you survive, you didn’t die. You learn that your boundaries are all in your head and that you can push through those boundaries and actually be more than you think you can be,” says Terrin Skirtz. 

She adds that there is a place for every kind of woman on the track. 

“It’s very empowering for women, to find their own selves. We also embrace all body styles; tall short, round, long, we need all of those for our games. It’s very embracive of body types when there is so much body shaming going on,” says Terrin Skirtz.  

Off the track, the members of Rock Town Roller Derby are committed to being positive role models in the community through displays of athleticism, good sportsmanship, and volunteerism.

Rock Town members participate in community service for a number of local events and organizations around the central Arkansas area. The league has raised money and gathered donations for charities such as Toys for Tots, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the Pulaski County Humane Society, and the Arkansas Foodbank Network. Learn more here. 

Just as there are various ways to be introduced to the high-impact sport, it has just as many rewarding challenges for players.   

“I’ve always had that struggle of being a perfectionist. If I’m not immediately good I think that there’s no way that I could ever do something. Even though I didn’t take to [roller derby] naturally, I have stuck with it. I’ve been doing this for over a year; I’m still a fresh meat and that’s totally okay because it has given me a chance to challenge myself and stick with something that I wasn’t originally good at. And I get better every practice,” says Blazen TheaTrix. 

The atmosphere at practice is one of support, and encouragement.  

“Everyone is just so nice when you get here and have no idea what’s going on,” Blazen TheaTrix says. 

It can be a little daunting starting out but picking up where you left off on quads after not skating since childhood can come back fairly quickly by putting in time on the track. 

“They [fresh meat] look at you with these big eyes and I promise them that you’ll get there. And they don’t really trust you because life is that way and then a year later, they are doing transitions or getting their laps in or a jump they are working on and you’re like ‘See!’ Their eyes just light up! There’s nothing in life right now that really rewards women for being so active in the sense of push your boundaries, try harder and it actually works. You actually get better,” says Terrin Skirtz. “And then what we do with our gals who have been in for a couple of years is that they help with our fresh meat so they get a sense of that’s where I started and look where I’m at now.”  

Rock Town Roller Derby’s first game of the season is 12 p.m. March 30 at the Arkansas Skatium.  

“This is my family. If I ever need anything, these are my gals,” says Terrin Skirtz. 

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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