Ready to Roll

GW women show off their speed and skating skills, let off steam in D.C. Rollergirls.

May 08, 2010

By Rachel Muir

“It’s fast, it’s showy, it’s tough and it requires a surprising level of skill and fitness,” says Meredith Gavilan, M.A. ’06, who skates for the Cherry Blossom Bombshells, one of three local roller derby teams.

Ms. Gavilan works by day at the Academy for Educational Development, where she focuses on disease prevention for children in Ethiopia and Madagascar. But three nights a week and most weekends she can be found at the D.C. Armory’s skating track.

“A friend of a friend played, and the idea of roller derby stuck in my head,” says Ms. Gavilan. “It seemed like such a fun and exciting sport, so I signed up without having seen it. A few weeks later, I was in training and hooked.”

Roller derby rules are straightforward. Five skaters for each team compete on an oval flat track. Each team has one designated “jammer” who scores by lapping opposing team players (one point for each opponent passed). The rest of the skaters form the “pack” and try to both advance their own jammer and stop the other team’s. A bout is divided into two 30-minute halves, and it’s not unusual for a team to score more than 150 points.

Part of the tradition is a “derby name” that skaters pick once they complete training. After considering dozens of alternatives, Ms. Gavilan chose “Peaches N Cruelty.” “It was one of the first names I thought of, and I liked the contrast between sweet and tough and that it’s a play on peaches and cream,” she says.

Among the nearly 50 women in the D.C. Rollergirls league are teachers, nurses, writers, artists, librarians, stay-at-home moms—and GW staff member and alumna Samantha McGovern, B.A. ’05, project coordinator in the Office of Facilities whose responsibilities include running the university’s RecycleMania campaign.

Inspired by a roller derby illustration, Ms. McGovern began following the league’s Web site and MySpace page in 2006. When a friend told her experience was not required to join the league, Ms. McGovern, who had never even been on roller skates, took a chance and enrolled in 2008. She’s never looked back. “What don’t I love about roller derby?” says Ms. McGovern, who also serves as the league’s media relations chair.

Roller derby’s appeal, she says, includes diverse and supportive teammates, the energy and aggressiveness of the sport and its ability to relieve stress. “When I am skating I am not thinking about anything else but skating,” says Ms. McGovern, who is still in training (or “Meat Camp” as it’s called in the league). “It’s nice to have two hours where you can get out stress and get out of your mind.”

The D.C. Rollergirls league, now in its fourth season, is composed of three home teams: the D.C. Demon Cats, the Cherry Blossom Bombshells and Scare Force One. The bouts, which typically draw an audience of 1,300 to 1,500, are held at the D.C. Armory monthly from September to April.

For newcomers, bouts can “look like a giant jumble of people randomly hitting each other,” but GW law student Jennifer Judge says there’s “a method to the madness.” A former figure skater now in the Rollergirls league, Ms. Judge advises spectators to “look for patterns in what the skaters in the pack do to either help their own jammer or stop the opposing jammer. Focus on one team or an individual player. Breaking it into smaller pieces will help you learn strategies and why skaters do certain things.”

The league practices together three times each week, and teams have individual practices as well. “It takes a lot of work on a consistent basis to be good,” says Ms. Judge, whose derby name is “Bad Asset.”

Not only do the players work hard on the track, but they also manage the league. “Most leagues, ours included, are completely skater run; these are intelligent businesswomen in addition to being great athletes,” says Ms. Judge. “An incredible amount of behind-the-scenes work goes into making a derby league successful. We take care of all of the logistics necessary to keep things running smoothly.”

But the hard work and workouts have done little to dampen skaters’ love of the game. “I enjoy absolutely everything about this sport,” says Ms. Gavilan. “I particularly enjoy the showmanship aspect, and I had forgotten how much fun roller skating is in and of itself.”

It’s a sentiment loudly echoed by her teammates. “I don’t think I’ve had as much fun doing anything as I do playing roller derby,” says Ms. Judge. “It has a place for women of every size, shape and personality type. I’ve never seen such a diverse group of superhuman women before!”

The D.C. Rollergirls’ next bout is a double header on March 6. Admission is $12 for adults and $6 for children ages 6-11. The D.C. Armory is in Southeast Washington, D.C., at the Stadium-Armory Metro stop on the Orange and Blue lines.

Pictured above: Samantha McGovern, Andrea Sudjapun ("Hook n SlasHer"), Karen Lloyd Eakes ("Obitchuary"), Jennifer Judge ("Bad Asset"), and Meredith Gavilan ("Peaches N Cruelty").

Comments? Criticism? The conversation continues. We welcome reactions, commentary and story recommendations on our Facebook page.

To return to the George Washington Today homepage, click here.