by Grace Pastoor, staff writer
photo courtesy of Rian Grotberg
Until 2009 local fans of flat track roller derby — a women’s contact sport involving roller skating, alter egos and lots (and lots and lots) of hitting — had to travel to Duluth or the Twin Cities to experience a game (also known as a bout). But after Shannon Murray happened to see a roller derby bout in Chicago, she knew she had to join the sport.
“I just knew I needed to skate,” Murray said. “There wasn’t a team in Bemidji and I couldn’t move.” Murray teamed up with then-BSU student Sara Bronczyk-Schmitz to create the Babe City Rollers.
I joined the team in fall of 2016, and will be one of the 14 skaters to play in bouts in the 2017-18 season. I sat down with three other players: Aubrey Johnson (Bohemian Bombshell), Kat Jenkins (Mad Katter) and Gina Bernard (wicked vixen) to talk derby names, broken bones and what derby means to them.
in: How did you first get involved with roller derby?
Bombshell: I started roller derby in March of 2012, so I’m going on my fifth year. I discovered roller derby because of a coworker who introduced me. I thought it sounded really cool cause it involved roller skating and I absolutely loved roller skating growing up. I watched, and instantly it was my thing. It was me, that’s all I can say; it was me.
Mad Katter: I started skating last April. I found out about it through one of my boyfriend’s friends. We went with him and I immediately was like, ‘Oh, I have to do this,’ and I pretty much obsessed with it for like a week after that and finally went to practice and loved it. I fell a lot, but I’m still loving it.
wicked vixen: I’ve been skating since October 2010. I got into it because a co-worker at the high school brought free tickets to a bout and left them on the table during lunch. I’m a divorced parent of two daughters, and they were going to be with me that weekend and I was looking for something to do with them, and so I was thinking roller derby: strong, empowered women, what a great message to send my daughters. We went and I hadn’t been watching five minutes and I was like, ‘Damn, I’m doing this.’
in: What about derby first appealed to you?
Bombshell: Seeing so many strong women together, working together, was my main thing, because I’ve never really had a big group of women friends. Being a team — I’ve never been part of a team — is what really drew me in, and it just created a family. And you know that you will have them forever.
Mad Katter: I was watching and I was like, ‘Wow, these are some awesome women out there beating the crap out of each other and loving it,’ and it looks like so much fun, and everybody’s got creative names. Who doesn’t want a superhero name? It just looked like so much fun, I just knew I had to do it.
wicked vixen: I was less than two years post-divorce. I think that to anybody who’s ever experienced divorce there’s a divvying up of friends, and your life kind of becomes smaller because of that. And then I was also transitioning from male to female, and so that kind of had reduced my world even more; I lost a lot of family and friends through that. I was physically and mentally healthy enough to start wanting to fill my life back up, and like these other two women have said, as physical as it is it also exudes family and strength and support, and so I think it was really vital in my overall health as a trans woman to be part of something. I lost a lot of family when I transitioned. In a lot of ways my derby family is literally my family.
in: Everyone who plays derby gets to choose a “derby name” to use on the track. How did you choose yours?
Bombshell: My husband came up with the name because I’m Bohemian and he thinks I’m a bombshell.
Mad Katter: I wanted to play off my name Kat, so I finally stuck with Mad Katter. I’m a big “Alice in Wonderland” fan.
wicked vixen: I came up with like a list of six or seven names. wicked vixen I liked, because vixen is a female fox and they’re kind of fiery and fierce, and wicked just seemed like a good roller derby name.
in: Derby is expensive, time-consuming and hard on the body. What makes you stick with it?
Bombshell: Knowing that I am capable of being able to do this sport amazes me. All the skills it takes to actually play derby, the endurance that it takes, just the core strength and everything, knowing that I was able to bring my body to a place to be able to do that just amazes me.
Mad Katter: It was a little intimidating at first, but once I got on skates, even though I was falling over and over and over and over, it was just so awesome and everybody was awesome and encouraging, so I decided to stick with it.
wicked vixen: I enjoy the physicality a lot. I’ve broken three ankles, I’ve had four concussions, I’ve broken a wrist, a thumb, a couple of toes, I’ve had cartilage separated from my ribs, the list just goes on and on, so I’ve asked myself that question. Why do I keep coming back? But the physicality, I love it, I really love it. I think the other thing that keep me coming back is I’ve been in it since 2010 and derby itself is constantly changing and challenging us.