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What it Takes to Wear the Skates

Sitting trackside of a roller derby bout, every attendee has had the fantasy of being in her skates, even if only for a whirling moment. Although she may be wearing fishnets, a skirt or brightly colored socks, a true “Derby Girl” is made of tougher stuff than sugar, spice and everything nice. ORANGE writer Devonshire Lokke had one-on-ones with two Texas Roller Derby (TXRD) athletes from Austin’s all-female roller derby team — Kara “Lyka Boss” Cordell and Ashley “Bendy Davis” Juraska — to find out what it really takes to wear the skates.

Story by Devonshire Lokke
Photos by Sarah Montgomery

LIVE & SKATE IN ATX

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Lyka Boss (right) plays as Jammer for the All-Scar Army at the first bout of Austin’s TXRD 2014 Season.

According to Bendy Davis and Lyka Boss, both referred to by their derby nicknames, only Austin’s roller derby scene boasts such a diverse set of players with different shapes, skills and lifestyles. Boss says that the variety makes the sport fun and Davis says that this has helped to created the derby community. “Anyone can find a way to fit in,” she adds. The girls both agree that the sport of roller derby itself is just an Austin activity. “I don’t know if I could do it anywhere else,” Boss says.

Another thing that makes Austin’s roller derby scene exclusively Austin? It has a unique set of guidelines. “Because we were the very first league, we play by our own rules,” Boss explains. Of these uniquely Austin regulations is the “penalty wheel,” which sets a player’s penalty punishment. “If you get a penalty anywhere else, it’s like, ‘oh go sit down and rest,’ If I get a penalty, I have to pillow fight [or arm-wrestle, or tug-of-war, or race] the biggest girl on the other team,” she says.

SHOW SPIRIT WITH STYLE

Having an original and outrageous style is integral to the “Derby Girl” persona. Players and fans wear flashy colors, wild hairstyles and team-themed costumes to add to the vibrant vibe on the track and in the stands. While some girls have their lucky fishnet tights or signature skates, such as Davis’ hot pink wheels, Boss, who attended the California Institute of the Arts for costume design, and others use roller derby attire as a creative outlet. “A lot of people like to wear the same outfit for every bout, be known for a certain look … I like to switch it up, I mean, I’m a costume designer,” she says, before pausing the interview to try on a vintage woolen army jacket and red zebra-print fur coat — the eye-catching pieces she has lined up for upcoming bouts.

EMBRACE AN ALTER-EGO

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Lyka Boss, playing for the All-Scar Army, takes down Bendy Davis, playing for the Cherry Bombs. These two happened to attend rival high schools in Illinois before they separately moved to Austin and joined the TXRD League.

To completely transform into a “Derby Girl,” one needs an alter-ego. When a new skater enters the draft, she takes on a new identity. Davis describes this as a challenging process: Newbies must create a name for themselves that is intimidating, witty and sexy. Then, these women have to learn to balance their new personas with their families, jobs, classes and separate lives off of the track.

Boss works at Slate Café downtown, while also attending New Beginnings Massage School, and Davis’s professional life “involves a lot of women’s health and anti-violence work.” Both skaters agree that “[roller derby] is a great outlet for the things [women] deal with throughout the day.” Davis describes it as “a very healing place in a very ironic way, and Boss says the track is a place to “unleash this different animal that you didn’t really know existed, but that you always wanted to exist.” 

Despite its seemingly dangerous duality, the identity of the “Derby Girl” sometimes overlaps with that of the woman off of the track. Davis, a new player still trying to find harmony with her alter-ego, says “it’s something I’m playing with right now … My goal is to test out things I’m not comfortable with as Ashley, so that I can incorporate them into Ashley.”

CHERISH YOUR FANBASE

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The crowd cheers for Katniss Everdemon, a newbie and self-identified “super-fan” of Lyka Boss, as she skates against her idol in her first official bout this season.

With a sport that consistently beats, batters and bruises, a “Derby Girl” needs a support system to help her get back on her feet, fall after fall. Some well-seasoned veterans, like Boss, have fans that idolize players from the stands. Some are “lucky”, as Davis describes herself, to have supportive partners, family or friends. Others, Davis confides, may join derby in search of independence from abusive relationships, alcohol or other tough situations.

No matter what a player comes in with, she gains the support of her fellow players over time. Boss describes the community of skaters as “an automatic, huge group of friends … like a sorority” — hazing and all — which then “becomes a family.” Davis smiles when she recalls the overwhelming support she received at her first official bout: Her husband proudly and tirelessly waved a sign with her name, and girls of the opposing team cheered her on.

BE CONFIDENT

A “Derby Girl” must be the most confident version of herself. To maintain high self-esteem among a group of such bold women, Boss recommends having a good sense of humor. “When I say ‘f–k you’, it means ‘I love you’,” she explains to ORANGE after jokingly swearing at passing competitor. While there are no regulations on smack-talk, phrases that cut down a player’s own confidence are taboo. Roller derby has its superstitions: saying, “I hope I don’t fall!” before a bout is bound to get a girl some serious bruises.

Dream Crusher, an 11-year old member of the Junior Derby League, claims that the sport helps to build confidence. “I do roller derby because I used to be that quiet girl,” she says. Watching the older girls from the sidelines, she adds: “But now I’m like, ‘come and get it, fools!’ It makes me feel good about myself.”

HAVE COURAGE

Bendy Davis puts on her game face for a penalty pillow fight. Photo by Sarah Montgomery.

Bendy Davis puts on her game face for a penalty pillow fight.

When asked what it takes to be a “Derby Girl,” Boss quickly proclaims “fearlessness.” According to Boss, roller derby is not about a lack of fear, or an inhuman pain tolerance, but instead the drive to pick yourself back up after a hard fall. “You have to be comfortable with falling,” Davis explains, showing off all of her blooming, purple bruises from the night before. “You have to work through the fear of failure … over and over again,” she adds. Boss says that a “Derby girl” needs courage. “You have to believe in yourself. Even if you don’t, [derby] really teaches you to get out of your own head, get rid of negative thoughts,” she explains.

Boss knows this feeling well. After severely breaking her humerus bone arm-wrestling with a fan, Boss returned from the injury with understandable fears. In her first bout back, however, she took the undefeated arm-wrestling title from its previous owner, Sacrilicious. Pointing to the colorful Eye of Horus tattooed over the place of her broken bone, Boss says she got the ink “[to] always remember that I can live through it … It makes me feel so empowered to I know I can come back from anything.”

DO IT FOR THE LOVE OF DERBY

The girls say that a “Derby Girl” has to be undoubtedly competitive, driven and passionate about the sport. Those who only do it for the stardom do not last long; there must be something more. Athleticism helps your game, Davis admits, but “it’s not just the physicality of it, it’s also the passion” that gets you to practice when your body is tired, bruised and sore.

“It’s a part time job, but you don’t get paid,” Boss says. Instead, players pay their own way in blood, sweat and tears. Boss says that because derby is such a “huge time commitment that gets in the way of your real life, of having a relationship, of work, of hobbies,” players have to “do it for the love of it.”

“It’s worth the sacrifices,” she says.

To join Texas Roller Derby, find out more about what it takes to be a “Derby Girl” or buy tickets to TXRD’s next bout (March 22 at the Palmer Events Center), head to the team’s website.

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