by Jacqueline M. Hames
If I were in the roller derby, my name would be “Jax the Ax.” I would probably also be a permanent resident in a hospital-I’m a wimp, unlike the derby Soldiers I was able to interview a while back.
I walked into the D.C. Armory totally unprepared for the DC Rollergirls experience-all I knew about roller derby was that it was, um, dangerous. I’d seen the movie “Rollerball.” Where were the motorcycles?
Fortunately, my misconceptions about the sport of roller derby were soon dispelled. Maj. Melissa Mitravich, also know as “Gun’Her Down” on the team Scare Force One, and former Soldier Diana Dawa, “Hooah!Girl”of the DC DemonCats, helped me see the light.
True, there are hip checks and body slams involved-but no motorcycles. And yes, the athletes did have on strange uniforms, which included knee and elbow pads, helmets and fishnet stockings — oh, and flame-print knee socks. But the violence depicted in popular culture was not present. The scrimmage I attended had a friendly atmosphere, even when the teams were screaming insults at each other.
As SF1 and the DCDC whizzed around the track at top speeds, their jammers attempting to lap the opposing team to score points, I noticed something. Women hip checked each other, sending an opponent sprawling, but there was no unnecessary use of force, no elbows to the face. Athletes on the sidelines would cheer encouragement (and yell it in profanities) to those on the track. During breaks, everyone mingled easily. Rivalries were present, of course, but in a good-natured way. Even when Dawa and Mitravich spoke of rival leagues, there was a fair amount of respect in their voices.
Maybe it was just ordinary sportsmanship, but it reminded me of the camaraderie present in the Army. On the track and off, derby girls have very close friendships across the sport, similar to the friendships between Soldiers.
“Everybody helps everybody else,” Dawa said.
See the August issue of Soldiers Magazine for the complete story, or view it on the Web in August at www.army.mil/soldiers.