Lushious Lucy puts on her skates—black quads, old-school—before a Capital City Crushers practice at Sk8away. Her striped socks come up to her knees, underneath a pair of heavy-duty kneepads that look able to withstand a pretty serious beating, and probably already have. Roller derby is tough work, after all.
“I never really was an athlete in high school, so this just kind of appeals to me on a sport level. It’s not a common sport, you know? Everyone’s on a softball team,” she says.
Twenty feet away, on the skating floor, the newbies run through skating drills, falling to their knees to slide across the floor before hopping back to their skates, while some of the vets skate in circles, shouting the lap count to a trailing coach. This is the part of derby that nobody sees—the amount of work that goes into preparing for the bout.
“I came to my first practice a couple years ago and it was kind of amazing, just watching them skate. It’s brutal sometimes, but there’s a grace to it, as well,” Lucy says.
Forget the real names. We’re at the derby now. Everyone, from the skaters to the coaches to the refs has a derby name. The women on the Capital City Crushers are here because it’s fun, but with having to pay dues, buy their own equipment and practice twice a week, they’re here because they’re serious about derby. Like Princess Lay-Ya-Out, a four-year vet getting ready for her third practice back from injury, which she sustained not from derby, but rather from being hit by a car.
“Derby kind of saved me, because I fell like I do when I’m hit here,” she said. “Anyone else in a similar shape probably would’ve gotten hurt worse.”
After four years, she’s hooked, fully ensconced in the derby culture. Her license plate reads “Princess” and she said—only mostly jokingly—that she tells people at work to call her by her derby name.
“I haven’t changed it legally, so that hasn’t happened yet. I take on my persona a little too much. They’re really supportive of me, though,” she said with a smirk. “It’s all about your alter ego. You get to put on the fishnets and be a badass for a while. It’s not all tattoos and swearing—we try to keep it family-oriented. But it’s derby, so it’s going to be kind of rough and dirty, but we know when and where to do it.”
About those fishnets—they’re actually there to serve a protective purpose. After all, when the skaters skid across the rink on bare skin, they tend to come away with a nice case of floor burn. But they’re also part of the look of the women’s roller derby revival—especially when you pair it with the tattoos and tutus and knee socks and bold colors—that’s part punk, part rockabilly, part burlesque and completely unique to the sport.
“Everyone thinks about the short skirts and the fishnets, but that’s not everyone’s look,” said Cap’n Sarcasm. “It’s empowering because you can be feminine and sexy and a bad-ass bitch. It’s one of the only places you really get both of those.”
Sitting off to the side of the rink, Cap’n Sarcasm and Feisty—just Feisty, like Cher or Prince or Shaq—are telling me about RollerCon, a convention in Las Vegas where derby girls from around the world get together to meet and talk about the finer points of derby, when a pack of Crushers fly by us doing “carpet drills.” Feisty and Cap’n break off mid-sentence to shout instruction. “Get in your derby stance! Bend your knees!” The same thing happens on the group’s return trip to the skating floor. “You’ve got eight people behind you, move your ass!” They’re smiling as we get back to the conversation.
“At practice I’m always jerking around, trying out tricks and joking with the other girls, but in bouts I’m tunnel-vision focused,” said Feisty.
Like the other women on the team, Feisty and Cap’n Sarcasm have lives beyond the rink—Feisty as an OR nurse and Cap’n working for TFI Family Services while finishing her master’s in social work at Washburn—which makes all the time they spend on derby seem to add to their dedication. In addition to the four hours of practice each week and all the bouts (home and away) they do each season, the women of the Crushers spend a great amount of time fundraising and spreading awareness of the organization throughout the community.
“It takes a lot of time,” said Feisty. “It’s a commitment you make to the team. We’re always trying to find sponsors to help get community support to keep growing.”
Ritz CrackHer, the team’s treasurer hopes to grow to 40 women eventually—they sustain an average of 30, though that includes the routine fluctuations of skaters joining and leaving—which means they’d be able to field two teams on a regular basis.
“Whenever we get new girls, I try to give a rundown of all the stuff they need to know, but I make sure to say you can’t feel intimidated by all the stuff the vets can do,” said Ritz, who also acts as a newbie mentor for the Crushers. “I know from experience that if you quit, you start to miss it. You don’t think that, but you do. It’s like an addiction.”
After playing an interleague bout back in March, the Crushers are getting geared up for their new season. Their first home bout will be May 22 at Sk8away. The bouts are open to all ages and the team encourages families to come catch the action. Visit capitalcitycrushers.net to find out information on skating, becoming a sponsor or catching the Crushers in action.
“Even though we’ve been around three years, there are people who don’t know what’s going on,” said Feisty. “No matter what town, people are always trying to say there’s nothing to do. It’s our mission to provide something unique and different to do.”
For more information, check out capitalcitycrushers.net
[Lyle Vaughn | photos by Matt Porubsky / provided | May 2010]