Roller derby brings up images of colorful characters, like “Queen of the Roller Derby” from Leon Russell's song; it has a unique fashion of hot pants and fishnet stockings and has inspired books and movies like Shauna Cross’ Derby Girl, which was turned into the movie Whip It.
Every Tuesday night in Bellevue, a group of women bring this culture to life at in Bellevue. They are the Bellevue Roller Derby, with more than 45 members who each have a reason as to why roller derby has entered their lives.
Donna "The Hot Flash" Kay founded One World Roller Derby in Seattle in 2010 and created the Bellevue league a little over a year later in March of 2011.
The Bellevue league currently has two teams, the Bellevue Brawl and the Wretched Excess, and they scrimmage with other roller derby teams from around the Puget Sound area.
“The goal is to mainstream the sport of roller derby” Kay said. “I want to see the sport become accessible to anyone.”
Roller derby is a contact team sport in which teams will score points by having one player, called the "jammer," lap the opposing team around an oval track. The jammer's four teammates, called the "blockers," block the other team's jammer from scoring points and help their own jammer escape the other team's blockers.
Blocks are made with body contact with shoulders, hips, and forearms, and the team can assist the jammer by swinging her ahead of the other team, an action called "whipping."
While men can play roller derby and the Bellevue League is co-ed, it currently only has women skaters. Men typically choose to referee. The only requirement is a minimum age of 18, so the skaters range in age, skill level and motivation.
Kay’s daughter introduced her to the sport eight years ago. She skated with the Rat City Rollergirls for two years then skated with the Tilted Thunder Rail Birds.
After a series of tragic events in her personal life, Kay found solace in the sport.
“I was my own person,” said Kay. “I was there to become a stronger skater. It blew me away that I could become stronger at age 52. It’s what held me on when my life was falling apart.”
Skaters pay $40 a month to attend as many practices as they’d like in Bellevue or Seattle, or they can pay $10 to drop in on a practice. The Bellevue League doesn’t have attendance requirements like many other derby leagues.
“We try to keep the stress of mandatory practices and commitments to a minimal,” Kay said.
Aiden Abet, who goes by her skater name, has been skating since 2007 and joined the Bellevue League a little more than a year ago. Abet doesn’t participate in the games but comes to practice on Tuesdays.
“There’s no commitment,” she said. “The girls are great, it’s a fun exercise, and it’s great to just be able to get on skates and have some fun.”
Crystal O’Connor attended her first practice in June.
“I needed to let aggression out,” O’Connor said. “It’s really fun, everyone’s really supportive. I need to buy skates, and then I’m coming back.”
Captains Shelley "Lady Hustla" Helzer and Sheri "Jamaica Hurt" Greenman teach the skaters the most basic techniques over and over again.
There are rules and they are complicated, and it’s a difficult sport to master, but the camaraderie is readily apparent. When one skater falls down, all of the skaters take a knee. Words of encouragement are constantly exchanged between skaters and real friendships are formed.
“The sport is so empowering,” Kay said. “People find their inner badass.”
If you go
Every Tuesday night, from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m., the Bellevue Roller Derby practices at . Skaters pay $40 a month to attend as many practices as they’d like in Bellevue or Seattle, or they can pay $10 to drop in on a practice. One World Roller Derby's schedule is on its website at http://oneworldrollerderby.com