Endurance sports aren’t new to popular culture. Ultra-marathons are common around the country, triathlons have skyrocketed in popularity, and news breaks regularly about a new fastest known time for climbing some peak or thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.
Did you know people used to also participate in endurance roller skating?
Participants battled for days to merely finish a “derby,” and to prevent others from doing so, as well. According to the Star Gazette of Elmira, New York, in 1885, a six-day skate in Madison Square Garden killed two, including the winner.
The roots of modern, more physical roller derby germinated under businessman Leo Seltzer, who made a fortune organizing dance marathons. A 1935 “transcontinental” roller derby he held in Chicago’s Colosseum simulated a race from New York to Los Angeles. Its success spawned tours and national broadcasts.
Crowds’ reactions to stumbles and pile-ups led Seltzer to tweak his sport, encouraging additional contact. When World War II erupted, roller derby events could be found nationwide.
Like all popular sports, the wheels eventually came off Seltzer’s creation. His son Jerry took over in 1958, managing the sport through erratic success. It eventually ended its run in 1973. Since then, however, it has been reborn in towns and cities across the world including Truckee/Reno — and the future is female.
Meet the Women of the Sierra Nevada Roller Derby Scene
There’s no ignoring the wonderfully garish, self-effacing pin-up girl branding of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association’s (WFTDA) team names and participants, a trait the locally based Sierra Regional Roller Derby squad takes to heart.
Every logo exudes enough estrogen-fueled braggadocio to power a Tesla. These are the girls you grew up with playing driveway hoops who body check you to get a rebound, score, then ask what happened.
Sierra All-Stars’ sobriquets include gems such as, Olive U. BiteMe, Tempo Tantrum, and Colombian Killer. Not to be outdone, the Battle Born Derby Demons have skaters named Bruisin’ Sarandon, Attackus Finch, and Ruthless Skater Ginsburg.
“Sometimes your derby name is based on interest, or maybe one is given to you, especially if you wait to pick one,” Jackson said.
WFTDA competitions are called “bouts,” which should surprise no one.
Bouts consist of two-minute “jams,” in which four blockers attempt to clear space for their “jammer.” The jammer scores by passing opponents after getting through the bout’s first jam, which resembles a rugby scrum.
The WFTDA may appear more WWE than LPGA, but it’s heavily self-governed and organizationally sound.
“People believe we skate around punching each other. That’s not true,” said Jackson. “We actually have a lot of rules about that. You can be fast and athletic, but it doesn’t do any good when in the penalty box. Smart athletes go farther in this sport.”
The Sierra Roller Derby Teams are made up of women from all walks of life, ages, and social circles.
“We even have a grandmother playing for us,” Jackson said.
There are two teams in SSRD, the Sierra All-Stars and Battle Born Derby Demons, and both became official members of the WFTDA last year.
“All-Stars pull the best skaters who also want to be competitive, who can help us with WFTDA ranking,” Jackson said. “It comes down to competitiveness — how serious people want to take it.”
“We call Battle Born Derby Demons our home team, but they do travel. They also have great skaters, but it’s a different experience for them,” she said.
The WFTDA is a 501(c)3 non-profit boasting 468 regional leagues across the planet, including: Queensland, Australia’s Coastal Assassins; the Eves of Destruction of Victoria, British Columbia; and Okinawa’s Devil Dog Derby Dames.
Status in the association was a big deal to the SSRD.
“It’s the NFL of roller derby, getting there was the most grueling part of the last three years,” Jackson said. “You go through years of apprenticeship, proving your league can withstand, that it’s good enough to prove you can rank internationally.”
Membership provides voting rights on rules and access to marketing and training resources. Best of all, it gives teams pride as members of a globally positive athletic endeavor for women.
“I’ve never been in a sport that’s so welcoming to different body types, sizes, and personalities,” Jackson said. “We don’t care what you look like or whatever. As long as you’re not a shitty person, we’ll take you. Maybe I’m amazing at one thing, but someone with a totally different body type is great at something else, so we complement each other. That’s the beauty of this sport.”
The Sierra All-Stars will host the 8th Annual Deep Blue Derby Tournament at Truckee River Regional Park on Sept. 14 and 15. Belgium’s Brussels Derby Pixies will be in attendance, making the event international.
The tournament won’t include endurance skating or national broadcasters. But, there will be a local team of mothers, nurses, lawyers — you name it — playing for a global sports brand, and most importantly, women everywhere.