Everything about the Texas Roller Derby Lonestar Rollergirls’ high-ceilinged warehouse practice space screams badass: the spray painted sign stating “Skate or Die” on the wall, the posterboard that reads “Skate at your own risk,” and of course the women on the central banked track, fighting to score points.
Rachel Rodriguez is waiting for her team’s practice to start, and looks every bit the part in black fishnet stockings and a black t-shirt and shorts. But Rodriguez also has a shy smile and easy-going demeanor. Like many of the roller derby women, off the track she’s amicable and open.
Rodriguez never thought she’d be a roller girl – when she and her girlfriend moved to Austin from her hometown Lubbock in late 2008, she saw fliers announcing roller derby competitions, and wondered aloud how one becomes a roller girl, exactly.
“I kind of just blew it off and I didn’t ask, because they were so freaking intimidating,” Rodriguez says. But the next day at a movie, she saw more fliers, this time announcing tryouts, and decided to go for it.
“So I came to try out, and I hadn’t put on skates since I was 10 years old,” she says. “I fell a lot, but I think the basic thing that they look for is if you at least try and don’t give up. I’m not very confident, so it’s a big boost, a big confidence boost.”
After making it through tryouts and a few practices, Rodriguez and the other rookies went through a draft to be placed on one of the league’s five teams. Rodriguez landed on the Putas del Fuego and became – on the track at least – Eva Patron.
For a shy girl who ran track but for the most part felt like sports weren’t for her, finding roller derby has been something of a homecoming.
“I get asked a lot, ‘do you have to have a tattoo to be in roller derby?’ no, there’s all different kinds of women here, and they’re all amazing.”
Rodriguez , who is getting her degree in early childhood education at the University of Texas at Austin, says her first month as a roller girl was hard. Re-learning to skate and gaining endurance and core muscle strength were challenges, but didn’t diminish the fun of the practices. And when it comes time to compete in bouts, the roar of the crowd goes from intimidating to energizing.
“It’s funny,” she says. “When I’m about to go out there, I have butterflies in my stomach, and I’m like ‘gosh, I don’t want to make a fool of myself, I don’t want to get hurt.’ But once you’re out there, you just want to win. It’s an adrenaline rush.”
Roller derby used to be planned out and theatrical, with a World Wrestling-air to the fights. But today the bouts are raw and uncut, and skaters never know exactly what will happen.
Roller Derby in Austin began in 2001 with a rocky start. The man behind the first all-female league, referred to now only as “Devil Dan,” ran off with all the money raised to fund the derby bouts. The league’s four teams worked together to re-raise funds, though, and held their first bout in 2002. Eventually the league split into two, a flat track league – the Texas Rollergirls – and the banked track league that Rodriguez is a part of, the TXRD-Lonestar Rollergirls.
TXRD now have five teams, the Hellcats, Holy Rollers, Rhinestone Cowgirls, the Cherry Bombs and the Putas del Fuego , self-described as “cholas with a taste for blood and tequila.”
Each bout begins with a pack of eight girls in different positions. The pivots set the pack’s pace and blockers work to stop the other team’s jammers, who try to score points by passing opposing players. for Rodriguez , becoming a roller girl has meant more than building endurance and physical strength. The sport has brought her new friends, new confidence and a sense of be- longing in the community.
The TXRD league stays actively involved in charities throughout the year. Most recently, Rodriguez says, she and her teammates made casts of their breasts, to be designed by artists, for the Keep a Breast foundation. That nonprofit raises money to increase breast cancer awareness among young people, and the casts will be auctioned at the TXRD championship game, the Calvello Cup, to raise money for Keep a Breast.
“I see a lot of people who have never seen roller derby and think it’s a lot of crazy women running around in fishnets and skating in circles,” Rodriguez says. “But there’s actual strategy, skill and endurance. It’s a real sport, it’s a real women’s sport…and a lot of these women take it very seriously. You have to. We’re proud of it.”