Miami’s Vice City Rollers welcome all ladies who consider themselves #DerbyStrong to experience the knock-’em, sock-’em sport of roller derby this Sunday, July 10, during the first session of the latest Fresh Meat course.
For the uninitiated, roller derby is a contact sport dominated by all-female amateur leagues infused with a feminist spirit and punktastic aesthetic. The game consists of matches, or bouts, where a pack skates in the same direction on a track as a jammer scores points by lapping members of the opposite team while those players attempt to block.
Sound simple? "It’s not as simple as the skaters make it look,” says Vice City Rollers coach Kristen De La Rua, better known on the track as De La Ruthless.
A lifelong athlete, De La Rua was introduced to roller derby by a friend and instantly fell in love. So much so that she got together with other derby enthusiasts and founded Vice City Rollers, Miami’s first roller derby league, as a nonprofit in 2011.
The diverse team includes tough ladies of every age — from 18 to 45 — as well as background and profession, boasting environmental engineers and teachers as well as moms and artists.
Three-year Vice City veteran Jessica Giraldo, for example, is a marketing coordinator by day who, on the track, transforms into Wilma Shakesfear, one of the team’s leading blockers and jammer-in-training. Looking to affirm her independence after a bad breakup, she was introduced to roller derby and found much more than a pastime: “I found my inner confidence and strength through roller derby in a period of my life when I needed it most. Now I can't imagine my life without it.”
Coach De La Rua can relate. “I think roller derby has a special way of bringing things out in people,” she says. “I remember when I first joined, I wasn’t really the most confident individual. I saw such a positive change in myself and others that it became something that I wanted to share.”
Sharing the sport with the community is exactly what Fresh Meat is all about. During Sunday’s three-hour orientation, newcomers will be introduced to the league and given a rundown of the sport, including how to gear up, before hitting the track. Newbies skate and run drills for about two hours as well as take part in a 15-minute off-skates workout to build core skating muscles, all as coaches assess the skills of each participant to assign them to the proper Fresh Meat course level.
The full Fresh Meat courses are four-week sessions organized into two levels – Roller Derby 101 and 102 – covering skating and derby fundamentals. Roller Derby 101 is more independent and concentrates on individual skills such as the derby stance, stopping, and falling, while Roller Derby 102 deals with skating as part of the pack, including how to pace, weave, and hit.
Participants are allowed to go at their own pace. Each skater is individually assessed and required to pass both courses to formally join the team. Trainees who do not pass are still welcome to skate with the team Wednesdays and are encouraged to practice their skills independently.
Leah Barsanti, a competitive figure skater and varsity hockey player, is a recent Fresh Meat graduate who, having skated informally with the team since November 2015, eagerly awaits the jersey that will officially welcome her to the clan. Her advice for aspiring Fresh Meat candidates is simple: “It’s all about a willingness to get back up.”
Despite the presence of avid skaters at Fresh Meat, Barsanti was most impressed with the resilience of first-timers who, despite falling and falling hard, would not stay down. After all, roller derby is a true contact sport and comes with the injuries to match, everything from bruises to broken bones and concussions. But that's no deterrent for a true derby girl.
“It definitely takes dedication and drive,” De La Rua says. Those qualities are the most important and stand leagues above fitness level, experience, or body type. “The beautiful thing about it is, anyone can play! As long as you’re working towards bettering your skating skills and understanding the game, you are an asset on the track.”
Ready to join? You might walk into Fresh Meat with curiosity and leave with a few bruises and a new family.
Vice City Rollers' next Fresh Meat: Roller Derby 101 course takes place this Sunday, July 10, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Palmetto Golf Course, located at 9300 SW 152nd St., Miami. The Roller Derby 101 class costs $50 and includes training twice a week, Wednesdays and Sundays, as well as an off-skates workout plan and additional information. Newbs can sign up online. For more information, visit the Vice City Rollers website.