Derby Girls Take Pride in Their Athleticism

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Rosalyn Bathrick signed up for the 90-day “Fresh Meat” derby program last winter with dreams of becoming a member of the Santa Cruz Derby Girls (SCDG).

“The first time I got on the track, I felt like Bambi learning to walk,” said Bathrick, a UC Santa Cruz second-year. “I looked like a doofus. I was scared.”

Bathrick is sure-footed out on the track these days — she has to be, as she and her teammates always have to worry about staying on their feet after colliding with members from the other team. Bathrick has put in the hours and taken the hits, and now when she puts on her skates and steps onto the track she’s no longer Rosalyn, but “Kamikaze Rozy.”

The SCDG is an amateur roller derby league in Santa Cruz and officially falls under the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA). The league is made up of three adult teams — the Boardwalk Bombshells, the Harbor Hellcats and the Seabright Sirens, and two youth teams — the Grom Shells and the Saltwater Sassies. The Bombshells represent the league on the national level and are currently ranked No. 32 in the world.

“I love this sport because it is a woman’s sport, and not a woman’s version of a male sport,” said Harbor Hellcats coach Snarls Darwin. “You don’t have to insert ‘women’ in front of it like in women’s tennis or women’s basketball. There’s something empowering in that there’s a sport out there that’s just as full-contact as any male sport, but that started out as being just ours.”

Given that derby is a full-contact sport, it requires a high level of athleticism, coordination, work ethic and teamwork. However, the sport’s unique aesthetics and traditions often conjure up images of bulky women with tattoos, fishnet stockings, booty shorts and colorful tutus, Bathrick said.

“The stereotypes that come with it come from people who don’t appreciate the athleticism and the honesty of the sport,” Bathrick said. “I’ve played a lot of sports and derby is by far the most athletic, high contact, high intensity and physically demanding sport.”

Other traditions include having a derby “wifey,” which entails a member from the team “proposing” to one of their teammates to commemorate the close bond they share.

“They’re just like your buddy on and off the track — making sure you go to practice and looking out for you on the track. You know, wiping your tears when you cry,” Bathrick said jokingly.

Because of the outlandish outfits and the theatrical nature of the games, third-year Liz LeJeune thinks spectators can become distracted from how physically gifted the women really are. It also might seem to the casual observer that some of the elements of derby are exploitative of female stereotypes, but LeJeune said this isn’t the case.

“We’re highly athletic, but we also have this very empowering culture for women,” LeJeune said.

However, not all of the Derby Girls embrace the stylized culture of the game to the same degree. Darwin prefers to pursue roller derby as more of an athletic endeavor.

“I’ve never been much of a dresser-upper — I never really wear the fishnets or the tutus,” Darwin said.

Santa Cruz Derby Girls (SCDG) is a non-profit, fully operated by volunteer committees, including the coaches, referees and non-skating officials called the “track pack.” In addition to the eight to 12 hours of training per week, members devote around five to 10 hours per week to committee work, during which those involved with the SCDG get together and discuss needs and possible improvements for the league.

Many current SCDG members are UCSC alumnae, and five or six are UCSC students, Bathrick said. Because the SCDG only formed in 2007, even veteran members have only played in the league for about seven years.

“A lot of the players are older — well, older than I am. But what’s cool is my captain is turning 50, whereas I’m only 19 and then there’s everyone in between that,” Bathrick said. “There’s so much love and admiration in this sport — it’s one of the most inclusive sports. There are some of the biggest women in the world out on the track and you freak when you see them, and then there are these little, tiny girls who give a hard hit or can jam like no other.”