Guardsmen get their kicks with roller derby
March 9, 2010
OKLAHOMA CITY (Army News Service, March 9, 2010) -- Some Soldiers will do almost anything to stay in shape.
In the case of three Soldiers from the Oklahoma Army National Guard, they are choosing to lace up some skates and strap on elbow and knee pads as members of the Oklahoma City Red Dirt Rebellion Rollergirls.
For those new to the sport, this ain't your momma's roller derby of the '70s either, when practically every move was choreographed like professional wrestling.
No, this is the real deal -- as evidenced by the bruised and battered bodies of 1st Lt. Jessica duMonceaux, 1st Lt. Kristin Sloan and Sgt. Karli Wahkahquah as they haul their tired rears off the banked oval track.
All are members of the Oklahoma Army National Guard's military intelligence community and became interested in roller derby after attending a bout one evening between the Oklahoma City Red Dirt Rebellion and a team from Amarillo.
"We all went to our first bout together and Kristin and I looked at Karli and said, 'We have to do this!'" said duMonceaux, who attended high school in Foley, Minn., before moving to Oklahoma City six years ago. "We can be pretty persuasive like that sometimes."
Initially, Wahkahquah was thinking, it has been at least 10 years since she had donned a pair of roller skates, but she was up to the challenge nonetheless.
"I'm sure I must have looked like a baby giraffe on skates out there at first," quipped Wahkahquah, who also hails from Oklahoma City. "There were a lot of bumps and bruises initially, but it's proven to be a lot of fun."
Sloan, a native of Mustang, Okla., said one of the clinchers for her was when "Energizer Honey," a member of the Red Dirt Rebellion, was sent flying over the railing, landed on her feet and got right back in the action without ever batting an eyelash.
"She jumped right up like she knew what she was doing," Sloan recalled. "The crowd went wild and we knew right then this was the sport for us."
Founded in July 2007 by a group of women with previous flat track experience, the Red Dirt Rebellion Rollergirls are members of Oklahoma's only all-female banked track roller derby league.
While flat track roller derby has taken the nation by storm in recent years, the Red Dirt Rebellion is one of only 11 elite banked track roller derby teams in the nation.
In its hay-day, roller derby was one of the most popular sports broadcast on TV. The late 1970s brought viewers professional wrestling-style derby with co-ed teams, heated fist fights and dramatic moves.
Then, as if overnight, it disappeared from public view...only to re-emerge 20 years later with a totally re-vamped attitude. You won't often see men on the derby track anymore, unless they're sporting a black and white striped jersey and a whistle.
You won't see clothes-lining, bunny hopping or any overly dramatic "scripted" moves either. What you will see are short skirts, fishnet stockings, tattoos and smash-mouth roller derby action.
All the hits, spills, falls and breaks are real and revered in the roller derby community.
Named after the infamous "red dirt" of Oklahoma and their wild "rebellious" spirits, members of the Red Dirt Rebellion Rollergirls come from all different lifestyles and backgrounds, from graphic designers and nurses, to stay-at-home moms and Soldiers.
The ladies get together at least three nights a week and for a few bone-crushing hours, they fly around the track hurling themselves at each other as they participate in their own version of ultimate fighting.
They like to have fun and they like to play rough, as their motto, "Skate fast and kick butt," states. Once the ladies step foot in the rink, they immediately transform into their "alter egos."
Wahkahquah, or "Rolling Death" as she is known by her Red Dirt Rebellion sisters, bulldozes her way through a crowded pack of five girls as she makes way for the "jammer."
Sloan, or "Bruise Clues" as she is known in roller derby circles, finds the "hole" and darts in and out of the "pack" as she bursts her way through, carefully dodging opposing "blockers" as they lunge at her with bad intentions.
The jammers, duMonceaux or "La Fleur de Mort" among them, claw their way through what seems like a school of piranhas, while the blockers catch an opposing skater off guard and send her skidding across the floor.
Belly flops and broken jaws, bloody noses and twisted ankles come with the territory. But these ladies embrace fear as if to say, "bring it on!"
After an intense bout, the skaters may seek treatment for their wounds. But, you won't see a single unhappy girl in the bunch. They'll limp outta there with a grin on their face and glimpses of roller derby glory in their eyes, eager to live on and to fight another day.
"There are definitely some dedicated people on our team," duMonceaux said.
What makes the female trio so successful on the banked track is the same tenacious attitude and "can-do" spirit that helps them thrive and survive in the Guard.
"For me, the organization and the planning are huge," said Sloan. "There was no real structure when we first got started. We used troop leading procedures to make it go a lot smoother."
Wahkahquah said she noticed the team's method of notifying people about an upcoming practice or bout was broken when she first became a roller girl. One person was contacting everyone on the team and it was taking hours to get people notified. So, she instituted a procedure similar to a military recall roster to help speed up the notification process.
"Now, all is well," she said. "Roller derby has definitely taught me to be a better leader. When we first got here, it was like herding cats. Now, it's like herding sheep. It's a lot more organized."
"I'm definitely developing my communication skills," duMonceaux chimed in, matter-of-factly. "I'm very direct these days and that helps transition over to the Guard."
As for their sports prowess, all claim to have been standout athletes in high school. Their roller skating experience, on the other end, varied from shuffling along the rails at a local skating rink to navigating some fierce obstacle course with inline skates.
All said roller derby has helped them elevate their physical fitness, however.
"We're guaranteed at least three practices per week, even more than that if we have a bout coming up," Wahkahquah said.
Sloan said their experience has helped with recruiting as well.
Sporting a baby blue Thunderbird on their right shoulder symbolic of the parent 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team under which they serve, Sloan said some of the other girls will come up to them and say, "Hey, tell us about the National Guard."
As important as being in shape and picking out the perfect accessories to highlight their uniform are, so is choosing the perfect nickname to capture their persona.
They all say it is "a big deal" because once you choose a name; it becomes registered and is theirs forever.
"Someone can call and ask to create a version of your name, but they have to get your permission," Wahkahquah said.
Wahkahquah's last name in Comanche means "riding death." So, in keeping with the Native American theme, she chose "Rolling Death" as her alter ego.
In French, duMonceaux's name means "the mound." So, she "just went a little darker," as she put it, with "La Fleur de Mort," which means "the flower of death."
Sloan said the nickname she arrived at, "Bruise Clues," is probably the least exciting of the three.
"That's just the one I ended up liking," she shrugged. "It was an original."
"We spent about two weeks calling each other and asking, 'What do you think of this' What do you think of that''" Wahkahquah said. "Choosing the right name is a big deal."
As for the reaction the Guardsmen get from people when they discover they are members of the Red Dirt Rebellion, they said most people at first don't realize Oklahoma has a team.
Second, they said, people will ask, "Is that real'"
"I tell them everything about it is definitely real," Wahkahquah said, pointing to the bruises on her left arm.
For those roller derby enthusiasts who attended the Red Dirt Rebellion's Feb. 27 bout with the world famous Los Angeles Derby Dolls at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City, the sport was viewed all too real for the 2,100 or so in attendance.
The Derby Dolls, a team made even more popular after being prominently featured in Drew Barrymore's 2009 directorial debut movie "Whip It," put a beat down on their hosts, opening up a 68-5 lead after one period and skating to a 231-29 victory.
Still, that didn't discourage Oklahoma's Guardsmen or their teammates, who graciously turned out en masse to sign autographs and pose for photographs with hundreds of adoring fans after the bout.
"I think we're going to be around for a while," said Wahkahquah.
"Yeah, definitely," lamented Sloan.
Although, they all admitted they likely will have to take an extended leave of absence next year with an impending deployment to Afghanistan looming on the horizon.
"Maybe we can get the USO to send our roller girls over to see us," duMonceaux wondered aloud.
If not, the girls will still have each other to lean on...just like duMonceaux and Wahkahquah did when they were deployed together to Afghanistan in 2002.
"We're all pretty tight," said Wahkahquah. "We pretty much became mutual friends after that first deployment. We like to mountain bike, rock climb ... just about anything you might consider extreme."
Some might consider roller derby extreme. But for Oklahoma's Guard trio, sustaining a few more bumps and bruises in the rugged, mountainous terrain of Afghanistan might just make them feel right at home.
(Sgt. 1st Class Darren D. Heusel writes for the Oklahoma Army National Guard Office of Public Affairs)