The woman skated unsteadily across the rink, still awkward in roller skates. As she took another stride, she lost her balance, arched her back in an attempt to regain it, but fell to the floor with a thud.
Almost immediately, a chorus of voices called out.
“Are you OK?”
“You’re all right!”
“You got this!”
It was a moment from a practice of the Fort Walton Beach roller derby team, the Beach Brawl Sk8R Dolls. It was almost interchangeable with one at the practice Crestview’s team, the Okaloosa Rollers.
Many women start roller derby to find a new way to exercise or for something to do at night, but they ultimately stay with the sport because they find a family.
“We not only support each other here, we’re supportive off the track,” said Patti Boyd, president of the Sk8R Dolls.
With practice, bouts, and field trips to watch other teams play, Boyd doesn’t remember the last weekend she was without her team.
That friendship doesn’t end there. Roller derby is one of the few sports in which teams pummel each other for 60 minutes only to drop all the friction after the game, Boyd said.
“Every bout has a party after it,” Boyd said. “The teams party together.”
The “alter egos” are an extra fun part of the support, said Tessa “Rampage Rae” Grabas, the Okaloosa Rollers’ president. You get to create something outside of yourself.
“Be a little bit of a different you,” Grabas said.
The sport takes all kinds, said Dawn “MissChief Managed” Weaver of the Okaloosa Rollers. Everyone from stay-at-home moms to military to teachers find their way to derby.
Weaver first heard of roller derby as she dropped off a friend at a practice.
“I thought she had a death wish,” Weaver said with a laugh.
However, the more she learned about it the more fun it sounded to her. She played for a time, but decided she’d rather referee. She enjoys keeping the girls in line.
“There’s nothing more frustrating than a win from a dirty team and nothing more satisfying than a win from a clean team,” Weaver said.
The more you practice, the more you learn and the safer you become, she added.
“I like them to be monsters on the track, but I want them to be classy monsters within the rules,” Weaver said.
Essentially, the “jammer,” or scorer, earns a point for each opposing “blocker” she skates past. Of course, the blockers do their best to throw off the jammer.
Touching or hitting with the head, legs, hands and feet is prohibited. Contact with any body part below the thigh or above the shoulders also is a penalty.
“You’re nervous as hell when you get out there until that first hit,” Weaver said. “And then you’re like ‘It’s on!’ ”
“Fresh meat,” as rookies are called, go through training. Before becoming members they are tested on everything from their knowledge of the rules to falling safely.
At some point, injuries go unfixed, said Brandi “Cheap Shot” Bradley of the Sk8R Dolls. The doctors usually forego fixing anything that will just be reinjured if the player continues derby. Bradley tore her ACL but decided to put off reconstruction because she’d be out for a year recovering.
“We’re not here just playing around,” she said. “There’s a lot of sacrifice.”
Bradley has been in roller derby for about six years. The reason she started was simple.
“I don’t like to run on the treadmill,” she said. “I don’t like gyms. I don’t do the usual workout stuff.”
It became a great way to meet people and become a part of a worldwide community, Bradley said.
“If I needed help anywhere in the world, I could find a local derby girl and she’d come to my rescue,” she said.
The Sk8R Dolls and Okaloosa Rollers compete about once a month against other regional teams. Despite the cost — each player pays for her equipment, insurance and dues — any profits from the bouts go to local charities.
This year the Sk8R Dolls have begun dedicating each bout to a different charitable group. This month their money will go to the American Cancer Society.
The group also plans to do service projects during the year.
“We’re strong women that are dedicated to the community,” Boyd said.
Grabas said the Okaloosa Rollers will look for local charities to donate to after Crestview’s Relay for Life. Their fans are the community and they want to reciprocate the support.
“It’s great to have the resources to make a difference,” Grabas said.
Daily News Staff Writer Lauren Delgado can be reached at 850-315-4445 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LaurenDnwfdn.