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Slaughter County Roller Vixens prep for Showdown
Three years ago when her husband was out of town on work, Marie Whatley fell in love.
With flat track roller derby.
“My husband told me absolutely not,” Whatley said. “All he could think of was me losing my front teeth.”
But when he left Bremerton for a week on a work assignment, Whatley decided to attend a Slaughter County Roller Vixens practice.
She planned to meet a friend at the rink, but the friend never showed. Alone, the Bremerton resident contemplated going home.
“Then I thought, ‘You know what? I’m a big girl,’” Whatley said.
Multiple bruises later, Whatley is co-captain of the Terrormedixxx, one of Slaughter County’s two all-women flat track roller derby league teams.
Going by the derby name “Ree Arrangher,” she also belongs to the All-Star team, which will compete this weekend in the Slaughter County Roller Vixen Invitational at the Kitsap Pavilion at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds.
Nineteen derby leagues from around the country are sending teams to the Wild West Showdown-themed event, which begins Friday and runs through Sunday.
Teams from as far away as Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada and Hawaii will fill the pavilion for three days of high-energy action and validate the hard work of Kitsap’s own Vixens.
“These are some of the best skaters around,” Whatley said.
This is the biggest roller derby invitational in Washington since an invite two years ago in Seattle, an event that attracted eight teams.
With nearly 20 leagues being represented and three tracks on which to race, there will be more derby action at the Slaughter County invite than Kitsap has ever seen.
“It’s huge,” said coach Phil Whatley, 44, Marie Whatley’s husband. “This is one of those tournaments that will put Slaughter County on the map worldwide.”
The Slaughter County All-Stars are made up of the top skaters from the Terrormedixxx and Death Rattle Rollers, Slaughter County’s other league team. Earning a position on one of Slaughter County’s teams, let alone the All-Stars, is no easy feat.
Just ask Marie Whatley — “one of the few skaters over the age of 40.” A doctor once told her to stay away from the sport because of the toll it took on her body.
“No, I can’t,” she said. “It’s very addicting.”
Phil Watley, known on the track as “Phil the Pain,” embraced his wife’s decision to skate after he watched her in person and saw how much she enjoyed the sport.
In three years of coaching, he estimated 200 people have turned out for the sport, then dropped out. Some lasted months, others days.
“There are a lot of struggles, not everyone can do it,” he said. “Not everybody has the physical prowess to do it.”
Aspiring derby athletes must pass a Women’s Flat Track Derby Association-sanctioned test, covering control, speed, endurance and negotiating obstacles. The association also requires a written test on safety and equipment. Additionally, Slaughter County requires participants to pass a second physical test, which Phil Whatley said is more intense.
Newcomer Kindra Robb, a 23-year-old para-educator from Port Orchard, has learned how grueling the sport can be.
She turned out for derby less than a month ago after seeing a flyer and is determined to earn a spot on either the Terrormedixxx or Death Rattle Rollers.
“The thought of the intense, all-women, hardcore camaraderie you would get from roller derby, it just sounded amazing,” Robb said. “They are viscous and they’re tough, but they work hard. It seemed like something that fit for me.”
Robb said she’s had more bruises this month than her entire life. Still somewhat shaky on wheels, she picks herself up after each fall.
“The injuries – the bruises, the pain in your knee, the pain in your wrists, the pain in your back – you have to weigh all that,” Robb said. “Do you really love this sport? Do you want to be committed? That’s who sticks around.”
Anna Sweezey, 29, commutes from Vashon Island to practice with Slaughter County and suffered a stress fracture to her left ankle during one scrimmage. On another occassion, she witnessed a competitor break an ankle in three places.
Concussions are common, too, and Sweezey said she’s seen numerous athletes carted off the track by medics.
Still, the physical nature of the sport is therapeutic for some skaters.
“If you have a terrible day, it’s great, because you can come here and smash the hell out of some girls,” Sweezey said. “And they’ll smash you right back.”
But the sport also takes a toll on the pocketbook.
After committing to roller derby, both Marie Whatley and Robb spent about $400 on footwear — the boot, wheels and brakes. Like shoes, the boots wear out and must be replaced periodically. Skaters also must supply their own pads and costumes, both carrying costs.
Wardrobe selections are entirely up to the athlete, though competitors must wear a jersey with name and number that is clearly visible during bouts.
Beyond that, however, there is freedom in the attire.
Marie Whatley said fishnet stockings and skirts, in the past synonymous with roller derby, aren’t as popular as they once were. More and more skaters are wearing material that hugs the body, like spandex,
“I get as aerodynamic as I can, down to the boot and wheel,” she said.
Those who turn out for the Invite should expect speed, hip-checks and a few flying elbows, Marie Whatley and Robb agreed.
“They look tough and they look harsh, but you talk to any one of them and they’re sweet as can be and encouraging,” Robb said. “They’ll give you all the help you need, and trip you in the same sentence.”