Sledgehammer, Geeking Havoc, Glitter Grenade, Kamikaze, Mafreaka, Kimmie the Kannibal. These are some of the derby names of the Ketchikan Rainforest Rollergirls.
“Your derby name is you alter ego or power persona – when we’re on the track, we get to be who we want to be,” said Tiffany Pickrell, aka Geeking Havoc.
The Rollergirls, like other derby teams in Southeast Alaska, have been building their team’s size and strength for about a year and half. On Sunday, they have their second local bout.
Like most of the other derby girls, Tiffany was not a rollerskating pro when she joined the team.
“I hadn’t roller-skated since I was in the single digits,” she said.
Now she spins laps around the Saxman Community Center gym in a Wonder Woman outfit. They say it is not as easy as it looks.
“I mean it is hard work,” said Dawn Rauwolf, aka Sea Wolf. “Your heart gets pumping really hard. Your legs get tired. It is physically difficult.”
You can tell how intense the game can be by all of the protective gear the women wear: neon mouth guards, sticker-covered helmets, elbow and knee pads.
The Rollergirls are at all different skill levels. For example, it’s Jamie King’s second practice.
“I was like, “Man, I’m falling a lot!” And they’re like, “Oh you’ll get better and you’ll be great!” she said as she took a break to the side of the gym.
Lyrissa Hammer, or Sledgehammer, has been on the team for almost a year. Here’s what it was like for her starting out.
“You just show up every day, and you suck at it. You suck at what you’re doing, and you just keep doing it anyway.”
“It’s definitely a challenging sport in that very few people can come out and be good at it right away,” said Malika Brunette, aka Mafreaka. “There’s a lot of falling. There’s a lot of physical challenges. But it’s great to see the mental toughness in the women who are coming out.”
Malika is one of the founding members of the Ketchikan Rollergirls. She, Jill Walker and Stephanie Sanguinetti decided to start a roller derby team in late 2012.
“Stephanie had played roller derby and we thought, well I think Ketchikan is gritty and tough, and it’s got a lot of women who are into something like this. So we thought we’d give it a go,” Malika said.
She said there’s a limited amount of athletic opportunities for adult women in Ketchikan, especially teams for just women. “And I think there’s a camaraderie you get with being on an all-female team.”
“You have no idea what kind of kinship you grow with these girls, when you’re playing a sport where you know you can potentially get hurt, and you’re sore all the time,” said Tara Miller aka Vaganna Freud. “All our friends I’m sure are sick of hearing us talk about derby, but because it’s become so important to us, it’s all we generally talk about anymore.”
In the year and a half that the Rainforest Rollergirls have been skating, they’ve grown to about 15 members. A few of the women have traveled to Wrangell and Petersburg to compete with the derby teams there.
But the big events in Ketchikan are the bouts the team plays against each other. They had one in January, and the next is this Sunday.
“The first time you actually play you’re terrified,” said Tara. “We work so hard on doing drills to prepare us for the madness, but you’re never quite ready until the day it happens.”
The upcoming bout will help raise money for team members to travel to compete. Malika says the financial side of running the team has been challenging.
“We’re learning how to manage our budgets and stay afloat as a small business,” she said.
A few of the Ketchikan women will join with derby girls from Petersburg and Wrangell and head to Palmer to compete in the statewide roller derby tournament. The team will call itself the “Southeast Sirens.”
The next Ketchikan bout is this Sunday, 5 p.m. at the Ketchikan Rec Center.