Women on wheels bring exciting athleticism, excitement to Denver

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By Sara Miller

A whistle sounds, and Anne Shank, the chosen jammer, breaks away from the pack. The Slaughterhouse Derby Girls from Greeley take off after Anne at a frenetic pace. But not before Pinky 500, who towers at 6 feet tall on her skates, throws a hip and pushes the SDG jammer off the track. Shank continues her run, and the Rocky Mountain Roller Girls take home a stunning 142-38 victory.

No, this isn’t a dream — or a nightmare. These visions of towering women in fishnets and rollerskates with names like “Catholic Cruel Girl” and “Vixen T’Kill Ya” are all part of the latest craze in home-grown athletics — Roller Derby.

The Rocky Mountain Roller Girls were founded in Denver in 2004. These women on wheels joined the ranks of non-profit, flat-track roller derby teams popping up all over the nation. On November 1, the RMRGs, ranked twelfth in the nation will take on the women of Tucson, Arizona who are ranked thirteenth.

Roller derby was founded in the 1930s as a form of athletic entertainment. Over the years, the sport evolved into more entertainment than athletics. Many may remember the vicious vixens of the 1970s hurling each other around the track by their hair. Roller derby became a staged show that resembled the World Wrestling Federation more than a legitimate sport.

The contemporary revival has restored a focus on athleticism while maintaining some of the campy accoutrements from days past. In spite of their shredded stockings or stage makeup, the girls of modern-day roller derby are serious athletes.

“We are an all-volunteer league,” says Lucky 7, a.k.a., Shannon Boyles. “We all have jobs and live outside of roller derby. But this is serious business to us. We practice six hours a week. It’s a combination of scrimmaging, endurance training, blocking and falling drills. The head of our training committee was a former speed skater. She is all about improving our speed and strength.”

Boyles joined the league three years ago. She grew up rollerskating but knew nothing about roller derby when she discovered the Roller Girls.

“I got a taste of how serious the training is, and I learned the rules of the bouts. After that, I was hooked. And the leagues just keep getting more and more intense every year as more teams are formed,” says Boyles.

The intensity takes the form of two 30-minute periods with an intermission in between. In the midst of the hip checks and breakaways, roller derby has a complex point system that keeps even the most seasoned viewer on her toes.

Even an untrained audience can admire the speed and skill of the Roller Girls. And the sport has held on to many of the entertainment aspects as well, with mascots, cheerleaders and a halftime show. At 4 years old, the league is still an affordable athletic option at $13 per person. When you consider what you pay these days for a show or a sporting event, why not combine the two and take a whirl with the women on wheels?