By Alex Dixon
The Herald-Sun, Durham, N.C.
Women clad in fishnets, American flag pants, paint-covered shirts, helmets and kneepads whiz around the skating rink, smashing into each other’s hips, often sending someone onto the ground.
A man in the crowd on the outskirts of the rink, standing up from his lawn chair, yells “knock her out,” and some five referees blow their whistles intermittently.
It’s Sunday evening at Wheels Fun Park in Durham. It’s the Chapel Thrillers vs. Raleigh Ruckus bout in roller derby, one of the fastest growing sports in the world.
“(Roller derby) is like being in a blender,” said E. Smackulotta, a Carolina Rollergirl, and tonight’s mascot dressed as a Lucha libre wrestler.
Roller derby, a contact sport played by two five-person teams roller skating around a track, has grown immensely since its “re-birth” in 2003.
According to Roller Derby Worldwide, there were about 50 active amateur roller derby leagues in 2006, all for women, and all in the United States. Now, the site lists 1,515.
Elektra Q-Tion, a member of the Carolina All-Stars, said the leagues now encompass women and men, sometimes together in co-ed teams.
“Derby has come a long way,” she said.
E. Smackulotta said the rebirth of roller derby occurred in Austin, Texas, around 2003 with the Texas Rollergirls.
Celia Fate, a now retired Carolina Rollergirl, brought the sport to the Carolinas shortly thereafter, and the Carolina Rollergirls were formed in 2004.
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When the announcer asked the crowd how many were attending for the first time, a majority of the crowd raised a hand.
“A lot of men bring their wives or girlfriends,” Elektra Q-Tion said. “Then the women get into it more than the men.”
Smackulotta said the league is currently working on getting a venue in Chapel Hill, after having venues in both Durham and Raleigh, with the league’s home location being Dorton Arena.
For Matt and Martha Countess of Wake Forest, Sunday’s bout was their first derby event after they saw a local advertisement. Their advice for newcomers: Bring a lawn chair.
“There (are) a lot more people than I thought … I didn’t know what to expect,” Matt Countess said.
Five teams comprise the Carolina Rollergirls: The Carolina All-Stars, The Carolina Bootleggers, Chapel Thrillers, Durham Crash, and Raleigh Ruckus.
The Carolina All-Stars, which compete internationally and are ranked 85th in the world according to the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, consist of the top 20 players in the Carolina Rollergirls league.
And in the international league bouts, the sport is less about the costumes and names and “silliness,” Elektra Q-Tion said.
She said in those matches, the teams wear matching uniforms and play at a faster pace as compared to the intra-league matches.
But the intra-league matches are still serious and physical.
Emergency medical technicians treated two players at the bout, and Elektra Q-Tion said some common injuries include broken bones, broken noses, and shoulder dislocations.
And while the injuries and matches may seem like a full-time commitment, all of the Roller Girls have daytime jobs as well.
“We have PhDs, soccer moms, artists and designers, bank tellers, audio engineers, nurses … the list goes on and on,” Smackulotta said.
Smackulotta’s real name is Elena Page, and she’s an animator.