The Rolling Valkyries roller derby team practices three times a week to prepare for the upcoming season. The women are often joined by members of the men’s league in Tampa, although Vice President Melissa Murray says the men are treated “just like really big girls.”
TARPON SPRINGS – They skate in dizzy circles, around and around the wooden track. Lap after lap, broken up only by rounds of pushups and crunches. A dozen women, moms and sisters and wives off the track, who thrive on the exhilaration of roller derby.
The Rolling Valkyries traveling team, formed in June 2012, is part of the first all-female, flat-track Revolution Roller Derby league that covers both Pinellas and Pasco counties. Since 2001, roller derby has become one of the fastest growing women’s sports in the country, expanding nationwide from the TXRD Rolling Lonestars in Austin; the Lonestars are one of a few teams recognized as reviving modern roller derby. There’s even talk of the sport being included in the 2020 Olympics.
“We’re a real, legitimate sport,” said Melissa Murray, the vice president of the Rolling Valkyries. “We want people to know that we’re here.”
Murray, known as Violet Offender to her teammates, was one of the first members of the derby team, joining just five weeks after her daughter was born.
“I was going stir crazy at home,” she said, “and a friend joked that I should try out for roller derby.”
The Valkyries are constantly raising money for various charities and are in the process of becoming a 501(c)(3). But there also are costs associated with derby, and the grassroots organization doesn’t take any corporate sponsorships. They pay for equipment, insurance and travel from their own pockets, and with tournaments everywhere from Melbourne to Pensacola, the Valkyries are always on the road.
“It’s a gypsy experience of girls in hot pants,” Murray said.
Almost two years later, Murray is a derby veteran, recruiting and training new skaters (they’re called “fresh meat”).
Most women who join the team know little about roller derby at first, no more than what they’ve seen on TV or in movies. But Murray said that doesn’t matter.
“First, you learn to skate. Then you learn to play,” she said. “At some point, you realize you’re doing them at the same time.”
Melissa Hughes, a third-grade teacher in Spring Hill, was also one of the first Valkyries when the team was created.
Two weeks after her son was born, Hughes joined the league. Two weeks, because that’s how long her doctor told her she had to wait after giving birth. Two weeks, no longer.
And sure, roller derby can get violent, but there’s a limit, Hughes said. Rules and penalties keep anyone from getting too badly hurt.
“Everybody loves each other here, but we kick each other’s butts,” said Hughes, who’s known as DeadLeigh Dexter on the team. “The first time I saw a bout, I knew I had to do it.”
A bout, or match, is played in two periods of 30 minutes each. Five players on each team compete at a time; four “blockers” and a “jammer.” Simply, a jammer scores a point for each opponent she passes after the first lap around the track. Most scores are between 120 and 200 points, Murray said, but she’s heard of top teams scoring as high as 700 points.
Mary Sayre, an operations agent at FedEx, joined the Valkyries just over two months ago; one of the newest members on the team, she’s a perfect example of fresh meat.
“I barely know the rules,” said Sayre, who goes by the name Belligerent LeStrange. “I’m just learning how to skate right now.”
A few weeks ago, Sayre skated 27 laps in five minutes. She hasn’t competed yet, but she’s preparing. And when she messes up, her teammates are there to help.
Two months in, Sayre said the Rolling Valkyries are becoming another family for her; everything she’s experienced so far has been positive. Well, except for one thing: the bruises.