Roller Derby Queen

There is a saying “May you live in interesting times”.  I think if you narrow that down you’ll find that “May you meet interesting people” can be even better. 
While at a party during the summer of 2009 two of our friends, Clara and Carissa, announced that they were joining a roller derby team.  Chris and I were excited and quizzed about the local women’s derby scene and tried to relate it to the Roller Girls series we’d enjoyed on the A&E channel.  I can remember as a teen back in the 1970’s watching the Bay City Bombers whirl around the track as they were cheered on by devoted and – yes — rambunctious crowds, and I’m certain at some point in my youth I’d memorized the lyrics to Jim Croce’s Roller Derby Queen. So I knew roller derby had been around a while and was glad it was having a resurgence. 
This year as local media was publicizing the advent of the Roller Derby season we were anxiously awaiting the date when one of our friends would skate her first bout. When last Sunday rolled around, we spent the day in Tulsa and had our errands and stops scheduled around being in Sand Springs in time to catch the first moments of action for the Tulsa Derby Brigade and Clara’s first official time on the track. 
By day Clara is an efficient and organized court clerk in downtown Tulsa.  But she doesn’t let her day job define her.  In her off hours she has many passions, one as a chocolatier and owner of Andy’s Candies.  When you bite into one of Clara’s Lavender Dark Chocolate Truffles there are no words to describe them  — just sounds of sheer pleasure, the kind that are made with full mouths, half closed eyes and a smear of chocolate on your lips. Using words however, is one of Clara’s other pursuits as a writer of erotic lesbian mystery novels.  After you ogle the lush photos of Clara on her website you’ll notice she has two novels to her credit. 
None of these sides of Clara prepared me for Sunday night and Cat Nip, Clara’s derby name.  When we arrived at the rink shortly before seven there was already two lines of fans waiting for the doors to open.  The shortest line was for people who hadn’t bought their tickets early.  The crowd was laughing and having a good time despite the cold weather. 
If you’re not a regular derby fan here is the quick and dirty.  The skaters start on two different lines on the track (this was a flat track), the pack is out front and a jammer from each team starts when the whistle blows a few seconds after the pack whistle.  The jammers are the fastest skaters and the only people who score points.  The first jammer to pass the pack is the lead jammer, and she begins scoring points when she laps the pack.  The pack tries to block the jammer from passing them — this is when the bumpin’ and bruisin’ happens.  The lead jammer can call off the jam by thrusting her hands on her hips or allow the jam clock to run out at twenty seconds.  There are thirty seconds between each jam.
We sat beside the penalty bench and just to the right of the Tulsa Derby Brigade team. I suspect that all of the skaters have that same mix of personality that our friend Clara does.  That mix of tenderness and bad-ass that makes a woman skate in public wearing a tutu and torn fishnets. 
While we joined in the cheering on of Brigade jammer Criminally Insane I also noticed the little girl near me with a big Happy Birthday balloon yelling even louder – “Go Insane!!!” This was pretty funny I thought to myself as I watched the joy on the little girl’s face.  Then I thought again about what a friend said earlier in the evening. How often do little girls toss aside the fairy princess Disney type image the media feeds them to cheer on a grown woman skating her heart out in a rough and tumble sport with such ferocity that she’s guaranteed to go home at night black and blue from the competition? Probably not often enough. 
Cat Nip, the same friend who a few years ago shaved her head to donate her hair to Locks of Love, skates as part of the pack.  She blocks and lays in wait for the other team’s jammer to prevent them from scoring.  Cat Nip was gearing up for a good brawl I realized as I watched her face turn red and teeth clamp down on the mouth-piece that hung from her helmet as she prepared to skate another jam.  Then I worried just a little bit about the jammers facing a pack of these women who were prepared to slam or push or send them sliding on their butts to the far corner of the rink in every effort to keep them from scoring.
At half time we took a few moments to talk to Cat Nip.  She was back to Clara then, smiling and laughing with her fans.  She was bright and cheery but it’s the wise person who remembers a derby girl shouldn’t be taunted.  They can turn in the bat of an eye into a bad-ass derby queen. 

The night ended with the final score of the evening –
Tulsa Derby Brigade 204 points, Tornado Alley Rollergirls 125 points. 
And then the skaters and fans alike did
Go Insane!

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5 thoughts on “Roller Derby Queen

  1. Denise you have expanded my cultural horizons. I had only the most vague knowledge of Tulsa's Roller Derby life. And I've never understood Roller Derby strategy/scoring until you explained. This in spite of the fact, as a kid, I watched it on TV. Laws! How long ago wazzat? I don't even want to know for sure. I checked out Cat Nip's Web site…fun and lush, just as you said. I never know what I'm gonna find on your blog, which is why it's a must read.

  2. Wowser! I love Clara – she's so layered & textured. I'm never surprised but always amazed by her.Let me know when the next bout is & I may come out & go insane too. There's a group of knitters over by Ft. Smith AR that do roller derby – talk about rocking stereotypes! I love women like this.

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