In the time it will take most of us to read this sentence, Jessica Ivey has probably already been knocked down to the ground, gotten herself up quickly, and is careening, at top speed, toward the finish line. She isn’t a runner, but her sport requires just as much speed and agility. She isn’t an ice skater, though the skill and grace it takes to wipe the blood from your knees and smile as you keep going is basically the same.
Jessica is a roller derby professional, a sport that she says is a cross between hockey and football, with a little bit of gladiator thrown in. She skates with the Rat City Rollergirls, a team that has been around since 2004.
Though roller derby has been around since the 1930s, it saw a revival around 2001, in Austin, TX. There are thousands of leagues all over the world (even in Egypt and Shanghai!), and around 200 leagues that are certified through the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA). As a bonus, the women of Rat City maintain a ranking among the nation’s top 10 best derby teams. The team has become so successful, in fact, that they now have their bouts KeyArena, home of the Seattle Storm WNBA team and former home to the Seattle Sonics NBA team.
How She Got Here
“I’ve always been pretty brave, and am also an adrenaline junkie,” Jessica recalls. “I swam competitively as a kid, and did triathlons when I was nine. I got second place in the Iron Kids Triathlon at Disneyworld! I was driven. I wanted to go to the Olympics.
“Being tough is an attribute not necessarily attributed to women. People think that means you’re bossy or aggressive. Girls aren’t taught to wrestle on the playground like boys. In roller derby, you learn to take it out on the track, and leave it there. As with any sport, there is a certain amount of competitiveness, but there is also camaraderie.”
There is also confidence involved – something Jessica didn’t necessarily have the moment she decided to try out for the team. She was brave, yes, but still admittedly nervous.
“When I first tried out for the league, I almost had a panic attack,” she admits. “I thought, ‘Are you cool enough? Fast enough?’ But the good thing is, you don’t have to worry about looking stupid if you fall. Everyone falls.”
What’s Roller Derby Really About?
Jessica says roller derby is about sportsmanship, not fishnet stockings. However, the stockings and colorful outfits have been what most people tend to think of when they think of the sport.
“At first we embraced it because it was stylized and cute,” she notes. “We were objectifying ourselves on our own terms, and it was okay. But phase two is having the world recognize that what we’re doing is serious, and change people’s perceptions of who we are. There’s nothing wrong with embracing femininity in sports, but we want it to be about the sport, not what we’re wearing.
“We are working to create a more sporty uniform, and discourage appearances that objectify us in any way. We’re making conscious decisions to end the old stereotypes. We do a lot of community outreach, and are trying to be responsible role models for young girls, so we partner with organizations that have similar missions.”
It may be a gradual process, but Jessica is excited about the future of roller derby. There was even a bid put in to have the sport included in the Olympics!
Girl Scouts and Roller Derby Girls
In addition to the women’s league, there are also leagues for girls ages 6-8 called the Tootsie Rollers, and a group for older girls called the Galaxy Girls. Women in the league mentor the younger girls, and often invite them to their bouts to sell raffle tickets and participate in other things. You might say it’s a troop of skaters.
Speaking of troops, Jessica remembers summers at her camp swamp as a Girl Scout in central Florida (seriously – a camp swamp!). Beyond that, she remembers doing beach activities and adopting a manatee. What she remembers most, however, is selling Girl Scout Cookies.
“I sold cookies like a fiend,” she remembers. I went door to door. I remember being nervous when I rang the bell, but when I made the sale, I did a mini fist bump with myself! When I have ownership of something, I don’t stop until I achieve the goal. I wasn’t very confident when I was a kid when it came to my relationships with girls, but I always had confidence in my abilities. I always believed I could do anything.”
She obviously still believes those things today. And she has clearly overcome her lack of confidence when it comes to developing friendships!
She compares her experience as a Rat City Rollergirl to being in Girl Scouts.
“We run a business together,” she says. “We have to collaborate, be inclusive and respectful. We all have ownership of what we’re doing, so our goals are the same.”
Beyond that, Jessica loves how diverse the 80 women on her team really are.
“This isn’t like a sorority. We have women from different careers, education levels and economic backgrounds. It’s fascinating to get to know these women. It doesn’t matter if someone is a welder or an architect – we’re all measured by the same rules. It’s powerful for women to have that experience together. It creates deep friendships that are rare and honest.”