RENO, NV - They go by names like "Mamma Poison," "Sinister Nightmare," and "Bratty Duke." By some accounts, they're the toughest thing on four wheels--and many have the bruises to prove it.
They're a local roller derby league that skates by their own rules. I initially called the "Reno Roller Girls" because I was curious about exactly what it is that they do. While I admit, I was intimidated by the group at first, but by the end of my first practice, I had made about forty new friends--and it was probably the most fun I've ever had on a Wednesday night.
The gear says it all--pads for every bony body part, helmets to protect their heads from hard track, and tattoos to show the world they mean business.
I asked "Stilletto Strangler," who's been skating with the league for three months, why shed joined. Her answer was short and sweet
"Because I'm a beast and I needed to do something with my energy," she said.
At least three nights a week, the team of 40 meets at an abandoned grocery store on Lakeside Court, where a track and two tough coaches await them. "Khat Man Drew" and "Bottle Rocket" call the shots.
For at least an hour each practice, "Bottle Rocket" blows her whistle, while "Khat Man Drew" orders the girls to the ground for countless push ups and sit ups.
"You're gonna do side-steps again! I don't want to see anybody rolling. I want to see your skates almost touching each other, and single steps," shouted "Khat Man Drew."
From warm-ups to stretching, the Reno Roller Girls are hard core.
"The thing about roller derby is, if you do it 100 percent, you don't need to work out anymore. You go on a derby diet and eat whatever you want," said "Mamma Poison," who is Vice President of the Reno Roller Girls.
"Arch your back!" yelled "Bottle Rocket."
"You're not allowed to say sorry or you'll do push ups," explained "Grace-N-Motion," the league's Executive Director.
And it's all in the name of winning what they call a "bout," which is a monthly inner-league competition, a battle between the "Bang-Bang Betties," the "Mafia Mollies," and the "Stiff Broads," who came out as the 2009 champions.
The leagues' first bout of 2010 is on the 20th of this month, which is why they're practicing so hard now.
"We're gonna scrimmage. So this is like, a 'bout-lite." All that you see us doing right now, we'll be doing harder and rougher on the 20th," said Grace-N-Motion, who broke down the rules for us:
"You have three positions: blockers, jammers and pivots. The pivots control speed of the pack. The blockers are there to hinder the jammers. Jammers are racing each other through the pack. Once they lap the pack, they start getting points."
The skaters can push their own teammates, but not their opponents. If they get too touchy, or too far behind, it's a penalty.
"It's crazy all the muscles you use," said "Mamma Poison."
But the Reno Roller Girls are more than just a sports team. For some it's a lifestyle, although the commitment level depends on the skater. They're a group of friends that have become as close as some families, if not closer.
"There are some I know better than others. But I love them all," said "Grace-N-Motion."
Within minutes of my arrival, they'd accepted me, and even given me my own roller derby name. After throwing around ideas like "News Channel Skate" and "News Slash," they settled on "Dirty Laundry," which is a perfect fit.
As I learned the ropes, and prepared to air all their Reno Roller Girl secrets, they let me fall, but made sure to pick me back up again, at least spiritually.
"She looks fearless. I don't think I've ever seen anyone fall like she's fallen on her first night," said Grace-N-Motion, after I took a hard spill while attempting to jump over a rope on roller skates.
The Reno Roller Girls say "every bruise counts," and they take time out of their otherwise busy lives to be there for each other.
"There is no 'derby type,' it just is," said Grace-N-Motion.
"I was a stay-at-home mom for the longest time. Now she's 16 months old now, so I put her with a babysitter a couple of times a week, come get my work out and kick some a**. Can I say that?" said Doctor Wheel Good," who has been with the league for three months.
"I'm a full-time student and a bartender," said "Bottle Rocket," who is also a mother.
"Your librarian could be a derby girl and you'd never know it," added Grace-N-Motion, who works a day job as an administrative assistant.
So why do these roller girls, the majority of whom are wives, mothers, and career women, spend hours a week skating and putting their bodies through pain? Many say they can't answer that, but the culture and the atmosphere has them hooked.
"It makes me happy. I do what makes me happy. It's as simple as that," said "Monster Mash," who works at a local western store and has been with the Reno Roller Girls for about ten months.
The ladies say they'll welcome anyone into their group, ages 18 and up. If you're a local woman who is looking for an escape from the norm, or just an activity to call your very own, the Reno Roller Girls will be happy to take you in. But keep in mind, I learned the hard way, it is extremely physically demanding, but so, so much fun!
The teams' first "bout" is Saturday, February 20th. The theme is "Cookies and Punch," as in, with "punch" with a fist. It starts at 7:30 p.m. at 3380 Lakeside Court, which is in the old Scolari's grocery store behind Ben's Liquor. That's at Lakeside Court near Moana Lane. The "Bang-Bang Betties" will take on the "Mafia Mollies" in the first bout of the season.