Hit the Track to Build Fitness and Resiliency
There is a growing grassroots movement in America taking the world by storm: women’s flat track roller derby. For those who remember watching the no-holds-barred banked track sport on television, today’s scene has evolved into a legitimate semi-professional sport that builds character, promotes fitness, and encourages empowerment.
Skaters now compete on a flat track in one of the fastest growing sports for women. There are over 1,200 leagues worldwide and skaters continually adopt new methods for training to accommodate women spanning all ages, backgrounds, and skill levels. It is not uncommon now to see skaters integrating Crossfit or P90X into their fitness regimen.
The two leagues on Okinawa are the Kokeshi Roller Dolls (Dolls) and the Devil Dog Derby Dames (Dames). On the mainland, The Tokyo Roller Girls encompass the Zama Killer Katanas, the Yokosuka Sushi Rollers, and Yokota Scary Blossoms. The Misawa Killa Geishas hold fast on the northern frontier.
These leagues provide an opportunity for Service Members, spouses, Department of Defense Civilians, and the local community to try something new for fitness and recreation.
Each league holds weekly practice sessions focused on endurance, skills, and strength training. The sessions span skating drills as well as intense off-skates workouts to build core and leg muscles.
No experience on skates is necessary to begin training, only the right attitude and commitment to take on a new challenge.
Tamara ‘Rouge Wave’ Schultz, the Recruiting Coordinator for the Dolls, explains that she joined the sport with no experience.
“Roller Derby has taken me completely out of my comfort zone and helped me to build confidence in myself. I had no skating experience before joining so it's been a continual challenge. I keep pushing myself past my limits and am constantly amazed at what I can do. That's the best reward!” says Schultz.
Christy ‘Kristy sKreme’ Googe, the Safety Officer for the Dolls, says, “I have never been athletic before and derby has really helped me to get in shape and make friends.”
Weekly strength training allows the skater to withstand the hard hits during a bout while skill training teaches how to avoid impact. For novice skaters, all the leagues sponsor introductory training sessions to build the minimum skills—such as basic crossovers, stopping, falling, and skating backwards—necessary to participate in a bout.
Veterans like Schultz admit that it can be intimidating and facing one’s fears is definitely a challenge.
“I'll be honest; sometimes it scares the heck out of me! Finding the courage to do it anyway and get back up to do it again when I fail is tough. I get a lot of inspiration from my teammates though.” Schultz says.
Googe echoes the importance of teammates, “Skate with as many veteran or skilled skaters as you can! We become better by challenging ourselves.”
Rebecca ‘Riot Earp’ Wyatt, the Dolls’ Athletic Director, reflects on the personal journey many skaters encounter, “Derby is a physically and mentally demanding sport. For me, the hardest thing was not learning new skills; it was having the self-confidence that I could do it. Anyone can be amazing out there.”
Despite the obvious physicality of the sport, there is an added dimension of resiliency often unobserved, except by the skaters and their families.
The military lifestyle is often stressful, especially for those who move overseas and find themselves having to adjust to a new environment away from family and friends.
Schultz explains one of the benefits of a roller derby league, “It provides new comers to Okinawa with a way to meet people and make friends. It's a great way to relieve stress and stay in shape. But most importantly, it gives women a support system since we're so far from home.”
Tayla ‘Black Gold’ Scott, a Team Captain for the Habu Hellions, says, “I think the military life mixed with roller derby makes really tight social bonds. The friendships quickly turn in to sisterhoods. We call on each other to watch our kids when our spouses are away, and sometimes that means whole families step in to help to make sure one girl can skate. That's special. That's roller derby in Okinawa!”
Many skaters will also say that Okinawa’s location and demographic presents other challenges. Wyatt explains, “Dealing with such a transient population of skaters, it is hard to keep rosters full due to deployments, pregnancy, or PCS (permanent change of station). But through adversity we persevere and do the best we can.”
Amid the challenges, there is a silver lining.
Googe says, “I think there is a huge opportunity for more talented skaters to come to our leagues due to the nature of the military. Also since we will always lose skaters when they get orders to new duty stations, hopefully they will integrate into leagues in the States and bring us some positive recognition for training awesome skaters.”
Wyatt summarizes how roller derby benefits her, “Roller derby is an oasis in my life. I spend my days as a wife, mother, chauffer, cook, maid…list goes on. It’s a great feeling to know I have still have my own sense of identity besides mom and wife. The feeling of accomplishment I get with this sport is the best feeling in the world. For a few hours during the week I can just be Riot Earp.”
For more information on the leagues in Okinawa, check out their facebook pages at Kokeshi Roller Dolls and Devil Dog Derby Dames.