Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Hell on Wheels

"Patty Slamaise", (C) 2011, Miachelle DePiano

When I was a little girl, I used to watch roller derby on television with my mother. As a young girl, I was amazed by these amazons. They were rough, they were tough, and far meaner than any “professional” wrestler I watched. They would zip around the arena, as easy as you please, and somehow beat each other up.

Fast forward some 35+ years. As I was on the Scott Kelby Worldwide Photo Walk in Tempe, I saw a young woman on roller skates, in full safety gear, and pretty much covered from head to toe. I wondered if she was a derby girl. She rolled by me and smiled.

I kept walking along Tempe Town Lake, trying to capture some grandiose inspirational photo that would net me world fame and acclaim. Finally, deciding I’d approached heat exhaustion, I started to hoof it back to Mill Avenue to meet with the other photographers.

There was Derby Girl, gliding effortlessly on the circular concrete pad, spinning, skating backwards, and making sudden stops. I walked over and asked, “Are you a derby girl?”

She beamed. The smile that lit up her face was brighter than the Arizona sun beaming on me mercilessly.

I would like you to meet “Patty Slamaise,” a team member of the Hail Marys, a roller derby team in the Arizona Roller Girls League, who remain undefeated for the season thus far. Her name is a pun on “Patty Mayonnaise,” a character on the cartoon “Doug.” It’s apparent her humor is endless. Looking on the Hail Marys’ roster, her skater number is 867-5309.

In real life, her name is Amanda Contrino, and she is a dental tech. She works in a lab, creating crowns and bridges from molds. Like many Arizona residents, she is not a native. She moved here two years ago from Indiana.

“I love Arizona. I will probably not move away from here,” she told me.

I asked what made her want to be a derby girl. As we sat in the grass, talking, I couldn’t determine what would make this young woman want to get in the rink and turn into a beast on wheels, to be feared by those who oppose her. She was open and friendly, and seemed so, well, nice.

“I love it. I love skating. I’m the saddest girl in the world when practice is over.”

Amanda did not get into roller derby until she moved to Arizona. She saw an advertisement for auditions, and tried out. Having skated since she was approximately 8-years-old, Amanda felt right at home.

How was her first game as a derby girl?

“Nerve-wracking. I was shaking. The idea of performing for an audience was scary.”

I did have to ask the one question we all wonder. “Is roller derby real?”

“Most definitely,” Amanda confirmed. “Nothing is fake. Everyone turns into a different beast. It’s all fun and easy until the game starts.”

Injuries are part of the game, worn like a badge of honor.

“I had to learn to fall properly. If I don’t, my knees hurt. I don’t go to the doctor though unless something is broken.”

Another team member who was listening to us talk, I believe SK8 Up Gangsta, chimed in, “I’ve skated with a broken ankle.”

Impressive. I am recovering from a torn calf muscle and she just made me feel like a complete and total wimp.

Practice is pretty intense. Amanda practices three times a week with the league, and then she practices with her team twice a week. Practice sessions are two hours each.

“Some might say I spent too much time doing this, but in reality, I can’t get enough,” Amanda said.

Seeing how much she truly loves what she is doing, I had to wonder what did she do before she found her passion?

She laughed when I asked. “I worked a lot. I had two jobs. Oh, and I bowled.”

I’m sold. If I had to choose between bowling and roller derby for excitement in my life, roller derby wins (no offense to those who love bowling). Throwing a ball down a wood floor can’t be as exciting as zipping around a rink, evading some mad demon of a woman who wants to pound you, while you select your next target for elimination.

Ok, I’m perpetuating a stereotype. What ARE the rules for roller derby? Are there any? According to Wikipedia:

Roller derby is played by two teams of five members simultaneously skating counterclockwise on a circuit track. Each team designates a scoring player (the "jammer"); the other four members are "blockers." One blocker is designated as a "pivot"—a blocker allowed to become a jammer in the course of play. The jammer wears a helmet cover bearing two stars; the pivot wears a striped cover; the remaining members' helmets are uncovered. The match is two 30-minute periods, with point scoring during jams lasting up to 2 minutes. During a jam, the jammer scores points by lapping the opposite team, and the blockers use body contact and other tactics to both protect their own jammer and hinder the other jammer. Penalties can be called, and just like hockey, the offender can be sent to a penalty box. Looking at the video on, I do have to wonder just what constitutes a penalty.

There are more rules, all set by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA). Allegedly 98% of derby leagues follow the WFTDA rules.

The other aspect to roller derby that all its members and its audience appear to enjoy is the underground subculture that goes along with being a derby girl. The costumes are part punk, part goth, part athlete, part sex kitten, part tough gal, all combined to create a persona far different from the everyday lives these women lead.

Sitting and talking to Amanda, aka Patty Slamaise, Midwest girl from Indiana, I get it. It’s fun to be a tough girl on wheels. Hell on wheels, if you will.

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