One girl was slammed into the wall and fell to the rink. Two girls racing up from behind toppled right over her, landing on the floor with a loud thud that echoed throughout the Central Oregon Indoor Sports Center.
”They're dropping like flies!” yelled somebody from the small crowd of spectators.
And there they were: A messy pile of tattoos, fish-net stockings, elbow pads, kneepads and, of course, roller skates.
Women's roller derby is making a comeback across the nation and now it has arrived in Central Oregon, via the Lava City Roller Dolls.
During practices, most of the women are quick to recover from the frequent falls associated with the fast-paced, aggressive sport, as they continue to learn the rules and skills of roller derby.
Dusty Mink, one of the lead organizers of the club, addressed 25 or so roller dolls after practice last Sunday:
”You guys are killing it! Everybody's doing a really good job. Now start getting ready because it's about to get serious!”
The 30-year-old Mink, aka Psy-clone, has been serious since February, when she talked with some friends from Portland who compete in the Rose City Rollers league. She was encouraged to start a league in Bend, and after discovering that another woman in town, Jamie Olsen, aka Suicide Jane, was also attempting to organize a roller derby club, the two joined forces.
Olsen, 34, said she was influenced by a reality television show about women's roller derby on the A&E channel, and by her background in roller skating.
”I started searching around online and realized that roller derby is huge,” said Olsen, who was on a speed roller-skating team in elementary school.
She hooked up with Mink to get the word out, and they were surprised by the response from potential Roller Dolls. They now have 35 skaters on their roster.
”There was far more of an interest than I thought,” Mink said.
The club has been practicing for about two months, currently twice a week at the Indoor Sports Center. Mink said she hopes the Lava City Roller Dolls can compete with other cities' leagues in less than a year. Aside from Portland, there are leagues in Seattle, Tacoma (Wash.), Los Angeles and San Diego, among other West Coast cities.
For now, the club will likely compete within its own league, breaking into four teams of 15, each with five starters, five alternates, and five ”fresh meats” (roller-derbyspeak for understudies). Five skaters are on the rink at one time per team.
Mink's fiance, Jonathan Beutler of Sunriver, is serving as the club's coach, though he admits he has no background in the sport. But experienced roller derby coaches are hard to find these days, he said.
Beutler has the ladies working on fundamentals and basic strategy. On Sunday, they scrimmaged for the first time.
”They've exceeded my expectations in every practice,” Beutler said. ”They're mastering it. I didn't think we'd be scrimmaging already.”
The five skaters on a roller derby team consist of one pivot, one jammer and three blockers. The pivot leads the pack, and the blockers follow as the skaters go around the skate rink.
The jammer starts after the others and tries to pass skaters on the other team with assists from the pivot and the blockers.
The jammer receives a point for each player on the opposite team she passes.
Each jam (race segment) is a maximum of two minutes, but the lead jammer may end the segment when she is in an advantageous position. There are three 20-minute periods with the number of jams varying within each period.
The sport is naturally physical, as the blockers use their shoulder and hips to check the jammers, and the jammers are constantly trying to move past their opponents.
The result leaves players crashing into walls and falling hard to the ground.
”Everyone looks forward to falling,” said 40-year-old Katherine Smith of Bend. ”We see who can have the best wipeouts, and we compare bruises.
”I watched it when I was younger, and now it's making this large comeback. It's a good way to make new friends and get out your aggression all at the same time. I plan on sticking with it, unless I lose my teeth first.”
But Mink insists that the sport is not that violent. She said it has that reputation, but the Lava City Roller Dolls have shied away from a no-holds barred type of roller derby.
”A lot of teams have no rules, but we're so new that we want to promote safety and athleticism,” Mink said.
She added that the sport requires good balance, coordination, agility, speed and endurance.
Because a high level of fitness is necessary, each derby doll has a personal trainer, courtesy of the National Fitness and Racquetball Club, one of the club's sponsors.
Most of the skaters say that roller derby is a great workout.
”Oh, my god, it's amazing,” said 19-year-old Savannah Harris of Bend. ”It's a lot of fun and a good workout, and you get to kick a-.”
Possible proof that roller derby has taken off nationally, and locally, came last week when MTV's cameras were in Bend to film Harris and her 25-year-old sister Melanie Miller, for an episode of the reality show ”True Life.”
Harris said the show would be about sibling rivalry in sports and that it might air sometime in August.
Mink, who was contacted by MTV through her MySpace roller derby Web site, said the exposure would be positive for the Lava City Roller Dolls and roller derby in general.
”Women all over the country are starting roller derby teams right now,” Mink said.
Mink hopes to eventually have a banked track built somewhere in Central Oregon.
”Once we can find the facility, that will take us to the next level,” Mink said.
Mink and Beutler said they encourage new players to come practice, but they are capping the league at 60 members. Spectators are welcome as well.
”There's so much energy, not just from the girls, but from the community,” Beutler said. ”Everybody's excited about it and we're trying to ride that.”