As a kid, one of the most exciting times in grade school was a roller-skating party. Whether a school-sponsored event or a birthday party for a friend, excitement rose with every lace of the skate (mine were purple Princess Jasmine ones.)
But after grade school, most people’s love – and talent – for skating dissipates, only occasionally test the waters on a dare or a drunken challenge. To find people over the age of 12 skating at a rink is sometimes unnerving.
After 12, the only place it is acceptable is in the roller derby rink. And though many may be unaware of it, the Peoria Push is a local derby team that has been making a splash on the derby scene.
Though still new to the team, Apocalypchick (her derby name, as that is the way the women identify one another, but more on that later), a junior at Bradley, found the team through summer boredom.
“I stayed in Peoria over [last] summer and didn’t have much to do,” she said. “So I just rollerbladed around the area, which is something I used to do a lot as a kid. One day someone asked me, ‘Doesn’t Peoria have a roller derby team?’ I tried out as soon as I could.”
For coach Lightweight Champ, the derby came about in a more modern way.
“I saw that Peoria was going to start a league on Facebook,” Champ said. “I’m pretty sure it was something like ‘Peoria Needs Roller Derby.’ How could anyone argue with that? I also have a friend who started playing a few years ago in Southern Indiana. She loves it and what would it hurt to give it a try?”
Once diving into derby, practices are very similar to those of other sports in their set-up, though what is actually done is a little different.
“You skate fast, you skate slow, you skate with a partner, you skate in a pack, you jump, you weave, you fall and sometimes you dance,” Champ said. “We also have sections of practices dedicated to teach hitting and strategy and getting hitters up to scrimmage level. Practices are normally brutal and leave you feeling like you’ve accomplished something, even if that something is hurting yourself.”
After practices, however, comes the fun part – the bouts, which would be like a game or match in another sport.
“Bouts are a bundle of nervous energy,” Champ said. “It’s really the best way to explain it. Playing in local bouts is much easier – you know your opponents, their strengths, their weakness and who’s going to try to blind side you and knock you through the infield. Travel bouts are incredibly unpredictable.”
That rush is what makes the sport fun.
“It’s pure adrenaline and yelling and keeping track of the 18 million things that are happening on the track all at once,” Champ said. “And, next thing you know, it’s all over and someone has won, and someone has lost. All of that anger and aggression on the track is gone. You hug it out and buy each other drinks.”
As far as physical toughness goes, not just anyone can dive into the rink for the first time and expect to play with the big girls, Champ said.
“You’re going to get knocked down and bruised for a while,” she said. “But you may develop a spot on your butt that doesn’t really feel pain anymore.”
Getting back to the names. Everyone on roller derby has a unique name. Some of Champ’s favorites over the years include Jackie Daniels, Beyonslay and O. Snap, though she says there are way too many to pick just a few.
For Apocalypchick, balancing school and derby has been a challenge.
“For me, school gets in the way the most.,” she said. “Sometimes my classes prevent me from going to practice, or if I have too much homework I’ll have to miss a practice. But I’m trying to balance it out because both are important to me.”
Derby offers a unique experience that isn’t offered anywhere else, Apocalypchick said.
“You see all these girls who are so into it, and pretty soon you’re one of them,” she said. t“Roller derby offers a unique opportunity for women to go fast, be strong, and get involved in a community of people who are just straight up awesome. Once you’ve experienced roller derby, its hard to imagine your life without it.”
Champ agrees, and sees it as a form of expression.
“If you want something that is amazing, something that will change your life and give you an outlet that is all your own, look into roller derby. The people in derby are open minded and caring.”