By Megan Sheehan
Photos by Michael DiGiglio/MDG Images
When you mention “Roller Derby” in casual conversation, the typical response always seems to be a strong one. Descriptions run along the line of brutal, teeth gritting, pain, and general chaotic ass kicking. There are visions of bright red lipstick, fishnet stockings, knee highs, pigtails and short skirts on skates crashing recklessly into one another and yelling obscenities, yet also seemingly submissive and sexual. These tough broads mean business and are not a force to be reckoned with. They will clearly knock you in the shin and steal your husband without smearing their Red Vixen No. 22.
But here’s the thing—that ain’t it. I (don’t actually) hate to burst your bubble and destroy the stereotype in your brain, but
roller derby is not what it used to be. I ventured into the dark corners of Shoppingtown Mall and into the Vault, where I was able to sit amidst a pack of these wild ones. I met with the local crew’s Head of Public Relations, Megan Rydzak or “Focus Pocus,” who has been skating since 2016. Megan speaks about the re-launch and rebranding of the Syracuse league.
“It’s really evolved into more sport than spectacle now,” she said. “It’s very hard and competitive.”
Assault City Roller Derby began in 2007 with a very different feel. There weren’t even companies making roller derby jerseys yet. The end of 2019 brought a new name and new logo to Syracuse’s only Roller derby league. Now known as Salt City Roller Derby, the team feels more represented as individuals, as a community, and as a sport. Their logo now features actual words and is no longer a singular, specific player look and style.
So, if these women aren’t the Rockabilly pin-ups we’ve been imagining, who are they?
I sat down with six teammates who filled me in after hours of practice runs together. They sat collectively on chairs, couches, and the floor patting one another on the back, smiling, hydrating, and picking at their skates. The other teammates mopped up sweat, and playfully put mats away.
“The group of women that play roller derby, they just come from all walks of life,” the diversity is amazing and everyone is just so incredibly supportive of each other,” said Pushin’ Buttons (Stacey Walton). “You have cops and CPA’s and teachers, and stay-at-home-moms, and college students and we just, we all come together and work together and we support each other and that feeling is amazing.”
Walton wasn’t the only one who felt this way. The group of women vocalized and bobbed their heads in agreement.
“Roller Derby finds you when you when you need it most in your life,” said Terror Dactyl (Tara Thornton). “I feel like it’s taken me out of some depression, some self-doubt, and has given me so much self confidence that I’ve never had in myself. I can’t preach enough to people of how important it is in our community.”
Most agreed that the initial beginning of each derby career was intimidating yet instantly solidified their paths.
“I’ve played a lot of things but nothing like this,” said Prymal Instynct (Marie Martini). Recalling her first practice, she said, “I try some skates on and was like ‘Oh, yeah this is amazing.’ I just felt like all of a sudden I had wings. It was amazing.”
dExtra Terresrial (Erica Tauzer) spoke about how unique the dynamic is to have a team for adult women
“I’ve always been attracted to the strength and motivation roller derby brings,” Tauzer said. “I’m a smaller person, so I was a little unsure if roller derby was going to be the place for me. There’s a place for everyone, and when you know your strengths then you can find that space and really make a good experience out of it.”
As the women spoke, their words flowed together as if they were one being, sharing a continuous thought. It only makes more sense that there is such a bond and connection when you join a roller derby league. Instantly, you become part of a team. You are taught how to stand strong, how to safely fall, reminded of the protection you have from gear and your teammates, and are told to stop saying “I’m sorry” as a No. 1 rule.
“Once you start to question [constant apologizing] you can kind of start to work on it and see how unnecessary it is most of the time,” Martini said. “That’s when it changes the rest of your life because then you’re not saying sorry at work or in so many other situations or to your partner.”
SCRD is a competitive team running under the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) and are now able to be ranked country wide. Because they are in an official association, there are guidelines and rules that must be followed, so no need to be too terrified of ultimate chaos. There’s rhyme, reason, technique, and different classes of teams.
“You get to play against these women and you’re competitive, but you can still have respect for each other and you can still enjoy each other and you can still have fun on the track even though you’re beating the crap out of each other,” Walton said. “It’s still enjoyable.”
“Derby forces you to look at yourself and ask yourself ‘What am I really capable of?’ and that’s honestly what keeps me around,” Tough Buck (Crys Eldridge) said. “It’s completely reframed my ability to look at my life. I no longer look at things that are difficult as something to be afraid of but I look at them as opportunities to grow. I see that in derby and I see that in my life and it’s just been a really incredible ride so far.”
Join or Support your Salt City Roller Derby League by attending a game in their upcoming season at their new location: The Onondaga Nation Arena March 21, April 25, and Sept. 12 and by following on social media @Saltcityrd or their website www.saltcityrollerderby.com