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Tattoos & rollers



There’s no room for vegetarians in roller derby. When these fast-skating, tattooed women wearing fishnet stockings talk about doing the bump and grind, they’re talking real bumping and serious grinding.

All-girl flat track roller derby is the sport of choice for those times when taking it like a man just isn’t being tough enough. These women are so tough, they aren’t afraid to call themselves girls.

“It’s not if you get hurt, it’s when you get hurt” says the Tucson Roller Derby Web site, www.tucsonrollerderby.com.

Yes, the old TV sport of roller derby is coming back at us with quad skates flying, flaunting an in-your-face attitude that seeks no quarter and gives none. Tucson Roller Derby girls believe in rolling their own. TRD has three teams – Furious Truckstop Waitresses, Iron Curtain and the VICE Squad – as well as the Saddletramps, a “traveling team” of the league’s best players to beat up on the roller derby girls in Phoenix and other cities.

“The attitude comes from the type of women we are: not waiting for management or money. We just do it,” says Kim Kysar, the rock ‘n’ roll heart of TRD. In roller derby circles everywhere, she is known as Kim Sin.

“I used to be in a band called the Sintillators. We wanted to all have the same last name, like the Ramones. So now that’s the name I use for everything.”

Kim Sin is the person everybody credits with getting TRD started back in 2003, putting Tucson in the forefront of a sweaty retro phenomenon now sweeping the nation. In less than five years, roller derby has spread from enthusiastic beginnings in Austin, Texas, to a vigorous presence coast to coast. According to an online count, leagues are up and rolling in 31 cities.

Sin recently represented Tucson at a national all-girl flat track roller derby gathering in Chicago to standardize the rules and regulations for all these teams. At present each city’s league is operating independently of the others.

Doing some quick online research, it seems like all-girl flat track roller derby in every case is rising up from its city’s underculture. Teams are being formed by women who believe action speaks louder than looks. Women dedicated to lacing up their skates, buying protective gear and making plans to get a new tattoo.

Creating a personality and nom de derby is an important part of it. On the TRD Web site everybody’s photo and racy bio are displayed in full living color.

“Kim has been a friend of mine for years. When she asked if I wanted to be in roller derby, I said, ‘Are you crazy?’ But I went to a practice just out of curiosity and met all these awesome girls,” said Barb Trujillo, a hairstylist whose nom de derby is Barbicide. Her ample tattoos are equally intimidating.

“That’s when I discovered how great it feels to get a bunch of awesome women together and knock the crap out of each other,” she chuckles. “But it’s not about the violence. It’s about the game.”

“It’s really hard and it’s really a sport,” affirms Julie Vance. By day she is a staffer with the Arizona Theatre Company. At the rink she becomes Penny Tencherry (say it out loud) with a prison rap sheet to match.

Vance describes herself as a lifelong athlete. Softball has always been her sport.

“I was looking for a softball team when I saw the ad for roller derby,” she said. “I thought I might like that.”

Now she doesn’t play any ball. Skating is her life. Literally. Every day Vance is either at team practice with the VICE Squad or working out on her own.

“Zoe and I signed up for an acrobatics class, too. We want to improve our balance,” Vance said.

“The physical contact is what appeals to me,” said Zoe O’Reilly, who skates as Whiskey Mick. “Plus, we get to wear cute outfits and knock the heck out of people.” By day she works for the Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans.

“I like the punk rock thing, too,” O’Reilly added with a smile. “In some ways, being on a team is kind of like being in a gang.”

With all that fascination for getting physical, the women are quick to emphasize their attention to safety. To become a derby girl takes some serious commitment.

“Newbies must go to 18 practices before they can join a team, with two drills at each practice for learning how to fall,” said Eleanor Greyloch, a bartender at the Surly Wench Pub. Being co-captain of the Saddletramps, she gets respect as Eeka. She also enjoys displaying the tattooer’s skin art.

“Falling drills are where the girls learn, for example, to fall forward on their knees … because that’s where the pads are,” Eeka explains. “Another example would be to fall, spin around and get back up. That one can help if you’re falling into a crowd.”

Falling into a crowd happens more often than you’d think. This is a sport where, like in pro wrestling, the crowd becomes a part of the show. At every bout, a track is outlined on the floor with a raised line of discolike running lights. There is a safety area separating the seats from the track, but no actual barrier.

In the heat of a jam, skaters can easily get bumped off the track and slide into the crowd.

“For some spectators, the chance of getting a roller derby girl in their lap is a part of the attraction,” said Paul Hartley, one of the volunteer referees. Every bout is worked by a team of four to six refs.

Hartley says that in addition to all those practices every newbie must pass a skating skills assessment test that includes doing crossover turns, going from full speed to a complete stop in a specific distance and knowing how to execute moves with names such as “whip” and “push.”

“If you fall on your butt during the skills assessment test, you’re disqualified,” he said. “We are all about safety – not injuring yourself or others.” Even so, Hartley reeled of an unofficial injury list that includes broken ankles, broken noses, a dislocated shoulder and “lots of owies.”

The TRD membership also prides itself on keeping its audience informed. Sin says the bouts always draw between 600 to 800 fans. Throughout each bout, which lasts around three hours, announcers keep a running commentary on the scoring, penalties, fights and other spontaneous activities. You don’t need to know a thing about roller derby to enjoy these encounters.

Anything can happen once the national anthem is played with respect and the announcer shouts, “Let’s get down and derby!”


What: VICE Squad vs. Iron Curtain, an official bout sanctioned by Tucson Roller Derby.

When: tomorrow 6:30 p.m. doors open, 7:20 p.m. the action begins.

Where: Blade World, 1065 W. Grant Road (enter from the Century theater driveway).

Tickets: $8 in advance at Piney Hollow, Biblio Book Store, Spooky Tooth Cycles, Blade World and “from any roller girl, we’re everywhere,” says Kim Sin.

Details: For information and reservations, call 390-1454, or visit www.tucsonrollerderby.com.

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