The first time I heard about Tampa Bay’s roller derby leagues I was working at Evos (stylized "EVOS"), a local restaurant, slinging air fries and soy taco wraps. I had dreadlocks and piercings and fresh ink on my arms. My hippie rocker chick game was pretty strong, I thought, and I expected everybody else thought so, too.
It came to my surprise, then, when I got passed up by a cool-ass chick recruiting for roller derby. She looked right past me and asked my petite blonde coworker instead if she’d be interested in joining a badass sport with strong camaraderie and an intense workout.
After looking into the sport, I realized the recruiter must have had a sixth sense about me. Alternative and athletic I may be, but I am cowardly as they come. And roller derby girls are anything but.
There are girls at my gym who train CrossFit—a sport many would consider to be of ultimate intensity—just to keep in shape for roller derby, if that tells you anything.
We are all making adjustments to life amidst COVID-induced quarantine, and sports are no exception. Having missed both my gym facility as well as my gym family at Burg CrossFit, I imagine the roller derby teams are experiencing some withdrawals of their own.
What happens when tough-ass chicks no longer have their tough-ass sport as their outlet?
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Diamond, a skater for local derby league Revolution Roller Derby. Diamond has been skating for a decade and describes roller skating as her sanity. A lifelong skate rat, Diamond spent countless afternoons in local skate rinks with her sister growing up. As a teenager, she played sports like track and soccer but felt they were lacking a certain intensity level.
After moving to Florida as a young adult, she was working in a doctor’s office when a patient mentioned roller derby. Diamond’s ears immediately perked up. She learned a bit about the sport, then connected with team organizer Rose Frizzle and they scheduled a meeting. It took no time at all before Diamond was hooked.
That was 10 years ago, and though her knees occasionally protest, Diamond is nowhere near ready to call it quits.
I can’t help but admire the way Diamond speaks of her team. The love and respect she has for her teammates strong—almost to the point of being reverent.
At my mention of this, I hear Diamond smile. Revolution is her family, she says—and she isn’t just speaking in metaphors. Having spent several years in the sport, she has coached and skated. Now, two of Diamond’s own children have joined her on the team.
The Revolution league is on the smaller side, having only 30 members, and Diamond says they are all thick as thieves.
“Our lives are woven together,” she says. “We have the same tattoos—we’ve committed that highly!” Diamond goes on to explain that she knows that at any time she can call up anyone on her team and ask them for help. No matter what, they will be there for her.
Roller derby is a tough sport, and skaters need an attitude to match.
What about COVID, though? With everything closing and social distancing becoming law, even sports are forced to make changes. So what happens when tough-ass chicks are no longer allowed to play their tough-ass sport? What do they use as their outlet now?
“We aren’t giving up,” Diamond says with confidence. The team is hosting an ongoing fundraiser—one it started at the beginning of the year before supersizing since quarantine—to keep people excited and engaged.
For the fundraiser, roller derby league members are challenged to skate as many miles outside of the rink as they can, using proper social distancing practices. The Pinellas Trail and paved pathways throughout the county are perfect for skating, and members are rewarded for their miles with stickers, badges and helmets. Roller derby supporters who are not on a team are also invited to participate, and are given gift cards and vouchers for bouts once the derby teams are allowed to compete again. People can also purchase shirts to support the team.
Diamond and founder Rose Frizzle are proud of the turnout so far: Collectively, skaters have logged over 8,000 miles—and the team is still going strong. Diamond herself has logged nearly 2,000 miles. She encourages teammates to skate and offers them transportation and/ or company to and along the trails.
About half of their team is physically ready to get back in the game, Diamond says, and team leaders are planning on holding no-contact practices soon to keep the girls in shape.
It will take at least two months of solid practice, though, before it is safe for skaters to compete again—so Diamond says their plan for the future months is to host scrimmages instead of full-on competitions, probably for the remainder of the year. Team leaders are in constant communication via Zoom meetings, phone calls and conferences to brainstorm new ideas on how to keep moving forward with gusto.
“The big message we want to get out there is that we’re still here, and we are still coming back.” Diamond says that skaters being visible on the trails is important: “Yes we are here! Please continue to support us!”
And support them, the community is sure to do.
I may not be tough enough for roller derby, but I sure as hell am inspired by these ladies. As the saying goes, adversity causes some teams to break—and others to break records. Revolution Roller Derby promises to be the latter, and I for one look forward to seeing them continue to smash goals and break records both in and outside of the rink.
For more information on how to support the Revolution Roller Derby team, visit revolutionrollerderby.com