For The L.A. Derby Dolls, Elbow Room For Self-Improvement

By Samantha Schaefer
Los Angeles Times.


Some girls choose soccer or cheerleading.

Ivy Wolk chose roller derby.

“This is it, this is for me,” the petite, wide-eyed 9-year-old said to her mom the first time she saw the Los Angeles Derby Dolls hit the track, and one another, two years ago.

Split lips, black eyes, rink rash and bruises are trophies here. “It’s not child abuse, it’s derby,” she once told her mother, who made sure she alerted her daughter’s pediatrician about the girl’s newfound love for the sport.

“There have literally been days where I have been like, ‘I must be crazy.’ But she just picks herself up and gets back out there,” said her mother, Tracy Wolk.

Since getting their start 11 years ago, the Los Angeles Derby Dolls have become an L.A. institution, lacing up skates first at Skateland, then on a rooftop in Chinatown, then on the third floor of a Little Tokyo shopping mall, with various parking lots in between.

They teach women 7 and older how to skate, and they compete against teams from across the country.

Now the volunteer league is moving again. Their Historic Filipinotown “Doll Factory,” a former dairy slathered in pink and black paint, sits on a block that may be slated for new development.

But finding a new place is a challenge, said league co-founder Rebecca Ninburg. It has to be big and affordable, with a landlord willing to look outside the box, they’re no textile company, but they’re not the violent, raucous crowd some think.

To raise money for the move and the new space, the Dolls have started an online campaign with a goal of $100,000 by the end of the month. To date, they’ve raised more than $79,000.

“I’m just gonna be so sad that we’re gonna lose this place. It’s my home, it’s my home away from home,” said Yesenia “Cherry Bomb” Hernandez, 15, who said roller derby is what gave her the confidence to stand up to bullies at her school.

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