Breaking Hearts and Body Parts
By Erin Dewey
Black fishnet stockings arely cover the exposed skin between an olive mini-skirt and a pair of Converse that match the Kool-Aid red highlights in Heather Davidson's hair. Japanese-themed tattoos creep out beneath her short shirt sleeves, moving down to her elbows and ending with a pair of cherries at her wrist and the word 'heathens...' scrawled across the outside of her right forearm.
Trading the Converse for black Riedell skates with red wheels and laces, Davidson, who goes by the roller derby name 'Lucinda Streets,' puts on her knee, elbow and wrist guards for the Bellingham Roller Betties' weekly Tuesday practice at Skagit Skate in Burlington.
"It is intimidating to get out there and put yourself on wheels," Lucinda Streets says as she struggles to get a red metallic helmet over her two hair buns.
The Bellingham Roller Betties, an all-female flat-track roller derby league formed in 2006, is a nonprofit organization owned and operated by members of the league. Suzy Everson, or 'Nottie A. Saiwant,' is a Fairhaven student and one of the founding members of the Betties. She saw an article about women creating a roller derby league and wanted to do it too.
"A group of women got together and said, 'We want to do roller derby,' " says Nottie A. Saiwant. Her short jean skirt and red fishnets contrast with the blue streaks in her light brown hair. "We put our skills together to make shit happen. All of us hadn't skated in God knows how long, but roller derby came along and now we're skating all the time."
Leo Seltzer, a cinema chain owner, combined dance marathons popular in 1932 with endurance racing and turned it into a competition he called roller derby. In 1935, Seltzer hosted the first Transcontinental Roller Derby, a race to roller skate 3,000 miles on a closed track. The teams consisted of two individuals. After 39 days of 11.5-hour skating shifts, Clarice Martin and Bernie McKay won the title, after only nine teams finished the race from the original 25.
In the years to follow, roller derby became more physical and underwent periods of demise and re-emergence before the 1980s and 1990s arrival of staged roller derby competitions called Roller Jam and RollerGames. In 2001, the all-female roller derby leagues started and have since multiplied across the country.
Although the Betties like to have nicknames for their roller derby persona and dress the roller derby part, they are quick to stress that the matches are not staged events.
`"Seeing women wearing short skirts and beating each other up is some guys' fantasy," says Lucinda Streets. "But it is important to know that it is not just a show. It is a lot of hard work forming this from the ground up as a grassroots organization. Our league is a rolling empire. We gain strength and camaraderie every time we get together."
Lucinda Streets says she remembers the first day she went to league recruitment, Sept. 19, 2006, because it changed her life.
"First and foremost, it has taught me to play nice with other women," Lucinda Streets says, laughing. "It has restored my confidence, not to mention the health benefits of getting off my butt!"
Helen Damnation, otherwise known as Tricia Duffy, 25, discovered the league through its MySpace page. She devotes most of her time to roller derby and likes the way everyone works toward a common goal, regardless of their lives outside the sport, she says.
"Before moving to Bellingham, I was homeless for four years," Helen Damnation says. "I moved in with my brother and had to start from scratch. This is something that has really helped me. I moved here and suddenly I have 30 close girlfriends."
Helen Damnation says her boyfriend calls himself a 'derby widower' because she is always busy with roller derby and the Betties, taking time away that he could be spending with her.
"I structure everything else around derby," Helen Damnation says. "This is what I do. My energy is here."
Although the Bellingham Roller Betties are one league with more than 30 members, eventually they would like to break into teams similar to their 'roll-models', Seattle's league, the Rat City Rollergirls. Rat City consists of five teams including the Derby Liberation Front, whose motto is 'Smash the State, Learn to Skate,' and the Sockit Wenches who dress like vintage hot rod mechanics. Each team chooses its own name, theme and attire. The Betties also hope to create a travel team, with players drawn from the entire league, inviting other teams to play and travel elsewhere for games and tournaments.
No matter what happens to the league in the future, it is obvious that roller derby is more than just a sport to the women involved.
"It makes me feel strong and fearless, like I can do whatever I set my mind to," says Nottie A. Saiwant.
"Plus," she says laughing, "I get to knock bitches down."