Over the last decade, roller derby has made a massive comeback.
Roller derby—a sport that was created in the 1930s—began that comeback in part because of all-female amateur leagues that started in places like Austin, Texas. It’s slowly been catching fire across the nation and around the world. In fact, ESPN recently called roller derby the fastest-growing sport in the world. Many women of roller derby today are dedicated athletes, and women of all ages and backgrounds are signing up for local teams.
The sport has gone back to its strategic and competitive roots after becoming something like a WWE on roller skates in the 1980s, when bouts had the reputation of being violent, and the winning teams were predetermined in some leagues. However, the amusing pseudonyms of individual players remain intact.
In June 2012, Jessica Jeffries (known as Jessi James), who had moved to the Coachella Valley from San Francisco, started the Coachella Valley Derby Girls. “My friend and I came here from the Bay Area, and we noticed there wasn’t a team. We basically made a flier and passed it out,” Jeffries said.
Since their founding last year, another team has sprung up in the valley, the Palm Springs Bombshells.
“Their team, from what I understand, is more recreational,” Jeffries said. “… We are an actual competitive team.”
Jeffries said her team has faced several substantial challenges, including recruiting women for the team (and getting to get them to stay with it), and finding an indoor venue to get out of the desert heat. Starting this week, the team will begin practicing indoors at the Demuth Park Community Center in Palm Springs—which will be a step up from the basketball court they have been practicing on at La Quinta Park.
The Coachella Valley Derby Girls recently had their first official bout in Arizona; they lost the match, but enjoyed the experience and are looking to improve. They will have another bout in August against a team from Oceanside.
The team recently hired their new coach, Chris Van Howten, who grew up watching the sport and has extensive knowledge of it.
During a recent practice at La Quinta Park, Van Howten had the team skating laps, and stopping at intervals to do push-ups or crunches. One member of the team was seen running to a trash van to vomit due to the strenuous activity. Vomiting, oddly enough, comes with a reward: a free bottle of Firestarter Vodka, a brand that Van Howten started here in the valley and distributes around the world.
“I want the girls to come out here and work hard. While I don’t strive for them to injure themselves or throw up, if someone gets sick during practice, I will give them a free bottle of vodka,” Van Howten said.
How many bottles has Van Howten given out?
“I’ve had about five payouts since I made that offer,” he said.
Most of the ladies come to practice for two hours, three times a week. The team captain, Christine Miller (aka Jersey Whirl), understands the challenges of motivating and encouraging others to put in hard work.
“There’s a lot of motivation that goes into it,” Miller said. “It’s hard to come to practice and bring all that you’ve got. A lot of people need encouragement. We come tired; we come from work; and we all have other things going on in our lives and in our minds. For me, it’s all about being a leader and trying to get everybody to give it all they’ve got.”
One team member who truly loves the sport and takes it all in stride is Irene Serrano (aka Hurricane Irene). Serrano—a general manager at Starbucks and one of the first players to sign up for the team—is also one of the older members. She’s all smiles when asked about her involvement.
“For me, when I put my skates on, I’m like a little girl again. The age goes out the window the minute my skates are on,” Serrano said. “… The fear of falling, the fear of getting hit—it doesn’t bother me. It’s all part of derby.”
While the team has been intensely focused on the sport, they also give back to the community. They’ve participated in the 2012 Martha’s Village 5k Run/Walk, collected and distributed toys for MHS of Riverside County, and volunteered for Heroes in Recovery 6k back in February. They were also in the 2012 Palm Springs Pride Parade.
As they prepare for their next bout with a new practice facility and a new coach, they’re also recruiting. Experience isn’t necessary, but potential players need to know that this is a contact sport. The team will also teach new members how to roller skate if they don’t already know how. If interested, contact the team at email@example.com.