A young, dreadlocked woman sits on the floor by the caged outdoor hockey rink at Herb Martinez Park. Though she just suffered an elbow fracture, she didn’t miss her weekly practice. Seemingly unscathed, she starts unpacking her protective equipment, the sun glistening on her impressive RoboCop-approved high-tech brace—the name of which escapes her.
“At $550…I call it a rip-off,” she jokes.
She’s Rowan Lange, aka Death Ro, a member of the Santa Fe Disco Brawlers roller derby team.
Wanting to avoid further injury, her plan for the day is to try her darnedest to avert full contact—not an easy feat considering the rough-and-tumble nature of the sport.
“Skating is like walking,” Lange, who her teammates later refer to as “the bionic woman,” says. “I might fall down while I’m walking just as likely as I might during skating.”
One by one, her cohorts trickle in.
“I did not spray these with Febreze last time,” Deana Brown, aka Dew Me Decimal, says as she pulls out a pair of kneepads from her pack and takes a good whiff.
“You’re not a real roller derby girl if your pads don’t stink,” number 69, Jessica Ortiz, says as she pulls up her Jolly Roger-patterned socks.
Nodding, Brown continues with the pre-training routine by covering up the exposed Velcro in her elbow guards as a courtesy to her fellow brawlers. “We go through lots of duct tape, so we get the fun kind,” she says, revealing a colorful paint-splatter-emblazoned roll.
Three years old and 10 women strong, the current Duke City League champion team members range in age from 20s to early 40s and have diverse professional backgrounds that range from construction workers to public defenders.
“I love the look on people’s faces when I tell them that I do this; they’re like ‘What?’” Brown, a librarian by day, says, putting away the Pollock-approved roll of tape. “They think I should have a bun and glasses at the end of my nose and be all timid.”
“We’re all very busy women,” Franki D Williams, aka Octa-Gone, says, adding that, along with providing a good workout, the sport also does away with “girly” gender norms.
“It’s much more fun to beat each other up than it is to cry,” she says.
She’s also quick to brush off any notion that participating in derby is akin to a death wish.
“You’re more likely to get hurt during practice, or the after party, than you are during the game,” she points out.
The team outfitted, it’s time for the practice to begin.
“Let’s do some butt-kicks!” Brown instructs, as the ladies line up with the grace and precision of an Esther Williams number—albeit a pretty badass one. Other warm-up exercises like “tweets” (a rolling squat) and “drunken sailors” (a one-leg-in-front-of-the-other gliding shuffle) follow.
A cacophony of grunts, roller-skates breaking on concrete and “Big Bad Voodoo Daddy” blaring from a nearby boombox fill the air. An hour in, the team takes a breather and Williams reflects on the lack of local team spirit.
“You go down to Albuquerque or even up in Taos, and the whole community is out, and they’re super excited about the teams being there…and they’ve got followers,” she says, catching her breath.
Brown cites the lack of proper training grounds as one of the biggest challenges the team faces, saying they often have to compete with outdoor hockey, soccer and bicycle polo players for the park space.
The same goes for a venue in which to host their bouts.
“In the past, we’ve contacted people, and they’re either too expensive, or they don’t like the idea of us being there,” she says. “It’s a total bummer.”
“We’re the homeless home team,” Decimal continues.
“There’s all this talk in Santa Fe about how there’s nothing cool for younger people to do,” she says. “Unfortunately, we can’t play in Santa Fe right now, but [roller derby] is something that [younger people] can come out and be a part of.”
To raise awareness to the issue, and also help fund a trip to Albuquerque in October to defend their title, the team is hosting a fundraiser on Friday, Aug. 31 at the Matador—a shindig the ladies hope will help put them on the map.
“We just want for people to know we exist,” Williams, who used to DJ at the downtown bar, says with a laugh.
The roller girl also hopes to recruit marketing and social media volunteers, as well as possible players, during the event.
“Guts, persistence and a high level of pain tolerance” are the top three qualities Williams says hopefuls should possess. She also lists a good work-out and a unique brand of camaraderie as some of the best things the sport offers would-be skate gladiators.
“Getting your ribs cracked.”
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