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Hellcats on wheels
Marrisa Bishop, all of 5 feet tall, is wearing fishnet stockings like battle insignia. Get in her way, she’ll take you to the ground. And if that happens, you’ve got just three seconds to get back to your feet — make that, your wheels. This is the new derby nation.
“It’s the most liberating thing I’ve ever been a part of,” said Brittney Olmstead, Bishop’s teammate. She’s better known on the track as B-murda.
The two are skaters in Kitsap’s Slaughter County Roller Vixens, a league in which women let their fearsome alter-egos come to life on a flat track. There, they knock their opponents around, a little like hockey players on roller skates. This weekend, Slaughter County’s All-Stars will rage against some of the country’s best skaters, when 19 teams converge on Bremerton for the Wild West Showdown.
Roller derby is a sport in which extra weight isn’t a flaw, but more power to wield. Players are a strange fusion of pin-up girl and athlete; rocker chic and savage. And from Slaughter County to Hollywood, it’s the hottest game on wheels.
It’s a rowdy sport with its own strategical nuances: Two teams send five players to the floor. Eight of the skaters, called “the pack,” start moving at the sound of the first whistle. The two remaining skaters, one jammer from each team, are signaled to go a few seconds later. They attempt to break through the pack, rocketing on momentum created by their teammates and navigating body blocks from the competition. Most teams don’t have uniforms, but instead players add their own stripes and styles to a designated color scheme. Almost everyone wears knee-highs, and Bishop’s fishnets certainly aren’t the only pair.
“It’s cheaper than anger management,” said Olmstead, quoting another league’s motto. She’s been skating for two seasons for her uncle, the league’s coach, Phil the Pain. She and Bishop, both 24, along with 31-year-old Mandy Dormaier, say it took all of one practice with the Vixens to convince them they wanted to join. You couldn’t pick these women as derby skaters out of a crowd — they are your hairdresser, your dental hygienist, your local soap shop manager. But this is what they do for fun.
Dormaier, known on the track as Daisy Nuke, said roller derby is the only sport she’s played.
“It’s the funnest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” she said.
There are no prerequisites here; if she can do it, then “literally anybody can,” she added.
Before newcomers can join in the action, they must survive tryouts and a three-month probationary period, during which they’re known as “Fresh Meat.”
The Vixens, started in 2006, are made up of two teams, The Death Rattle Rollers and Terrormedixxx, plus their all-star skaters. The skaters work on their hitting skills during practice, thrusting their shoulders and hips into one another. There is a three-second recovery rule applied to falls, whether a skater trips or another sent them to their knees. Discovering their own resilience is empowering, players say.
They work on their crossovers, posture, agility and endurance, all while sporting knee and elbow pads, wrist guards, helmets and mouth guards — and skates laced in nearly every color, rolling on neon wheels.
Olmstead said the teams spend as much time together as they can, on and off the track. That helps during bouts, when they communicate verbally and non-verbally to get their jammer through the pack.
And there’s tons of trash talk, she said.
But that stays mostly on the track, where business is business. After a bout, teams compare bruises over beers, often no matter what color they’re wearing.
“Derby love is derby love,” said Dormaier.
There will be two tracks sanctioned by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, plus one for unsanctioned challenge bouts, at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds this weekend. The invitational runs Feb. 26-28. Buy tickets at WildWestShowdown.com. To learn more about the Vixens, visit www.SlaughterCountyRollerVixens.com.