Spellbound in front of the television set at eight, nine years old, I’d watch the thick-thighed women of roller derby growl, sweat, and scuffle their way around the track, flying their opponents into the rails with a body slam or, when the referees weren’t watching, by the hair. Much of it was choreographed, like WWWF wrestling, but the WWWF only occasionally featured female matches as a token, whereas roller derby was dominated by women. Unlike the waifish and highly-stylized punk Suicide Girls of today, the roller derby queens of the 1970′s earned their smeared mascara and torn stockings the hard way.
I’d lace up my white, metal-wheeled skates and race myself around the blocks of Valmar Place and Severn Drive, pretending to be a jammer making my way through the pack and around the rink, occasionally having to elbow Dee Bauchery or Shirley Trample out of my way.
Outside of the Olympics and occasional gymnastic or ice skating championships, female athletes were mostly invisible in the 1970′s. The wealthier girls in my neighborhood might have taken dance lessons, but the closest most of us got to any sort of organized athletics was tether ball or softball at school. Women’s roller derby was over-the-top and theatrical, but it also showed that women could be strong, competitive, and successful, even if — especially if — they weren’t cute, 88 pound pixies.
I was a little disappointed when a roller derby movie, Kansas City Bomber, came out in 1972 starring Raquel Welch. I thought I’d prefer someone like Ali McGraw, who was both tomboyish and beautiful, but Raquel’s athleticism surprised me. I later found out that she did most of her own stunts for the film.
I recently learned that roller derby, in all its theatrical, punk-feminist glory, has been revived, and that there are almost 300 roller derby leagues currently playing around the nation. Why did this have to happen now, when I’m about two decades removed from my prime? I so would have joined in my twenties. I could have been Jamie Demolition according to this roller derby name generator. I could have been somebody. I could have been a contender.
Dreams die hard, but it’s nice to know that roller derby lives on for the next generation of rough and tumble girls.
So what would your roller derby name be?