“Rollergirls Rising” article in the March 6th edition of the Omaha World-Herald
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WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
Shirley DuPayne’s girliness stops once she’s in the rink.
She gets dolled up like a retro pinup girl — think Katy Perry-esque bright red lips and made-up eyes — before a bout.
But being a roller derby girl lets her show her tough side too, DuPayne says before a recent practice. She dons a bandana over her brown hair before every game.
“I can come here and be aggressive,” says DuPayne, whose real name is Aimee Ashmore. “But I get to keep my femininity too. That’s my favorite part.”
Omahan Ashmore, 32, is one of 40 women ages 20 to 45 who make up the Omaha Rollergirls. The team has come a long way from its early days in 2006, when the girls shared a rink with teenyboppers at SkateDaze and had a fan base made up mostly of family and friends.
Now in their sixth season, the Omaha Rollergirls have proved to the city — and to many of the women on the team — that they are athletes, players in a real amateur sport who are capable of more than even they thought possible.
“It’s made me a stronger person, both physically and mentally,” said Floozie Suzie of Omaha, aka Lori Kesterson, 35, whose makeup in the team brochure photo is similar to that of a Kiss band member. “I have way more self-esteem now.”
Attendance for bouts has increased from 80 to 100 people at the beginning to an average of about 1,950. Last year, 3,300 attended one match. The girls play at Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs.
The team’s Feb. 18 season home opener drew 2,947 fans. That night, the women’s all-star team — think Varsity compared to JV — beat the Des Moines Derby Dames 165 to 89.
The buzz surrounding the team is a little amazing to one of the team’s original members, Daisy Mayhem (Jessica Palimenio, 30), though she understands the appeal.
“I was hooked the second I tried it,” she said. “I’ve been here ever since.”
The Omaha Rollergirls, along with the 147 others that make up the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, are a far cry from the campy, made-for-TV roller derby teams that entertained viewers in their wall-to-wall carpeted living rooms during the 1970s. That fad fizzled out, but it re-emerged nearly a decade ago with a different style, a different attitude and a flat track playing field that today has attracted athletes and fans across the globe.
During a game, players skate counter-clockwise around a flat oval track. Games consist of two 30-minute periods, which are divided into two-minute-long jams. Jams consist of up to five women on the track from each team. Each team gets one pivot, one jammer and three blockers on the track. Those women work together to score points.
For 26-year-old Meghan Vesper of Omaha, whose day job is as a conservative U.S. Department of Labor investigator, roller derby is a way to be someone else a few times a week. And someone else she is: her athlete name is Forbid N. Fruit. She thinks of roller derby that way: something forbidden, or at least different from the way women “should” behave according to society’s rules.
“For me, derby is an outlet,” said Vesper, who is three months pregnant and is taking the rest of the season off. “I have a conservative job. But that’s not who I really am. Derby lets me be who I am.”
That’s the thing with the women in roller derby. They’re very different. Yet the same.
By day, these women are doctors, lawyers, cosmetologists. Some have tattoos and piercings. Many are moms.
Shawna Eves, a 38-year-old Omahan, has spent her adult life raising children. Her oldest daughter is 19.
On a whim, she and her daughter, Rya, went to the team’s annual tryouts in 2010 — boot camp — and thought, I can do this. At 17, Rya wasn’t old enough to become a Rollergirl.
Eves spent a grueling 10 weeks going through boot camp. Many women dropped out or were eliminated.
But Eves, who works at an advertising agency and helps promote the team, made it. And Shaw No Fear was born.
“I remember vomiting,” she says with a chuckle. “I grabbed a bucket, vomited again and kept going. I thought, ‘If I can’t do this, what else in life can’t I handle?’”
Eves lost 20 pounds that season. The women agree: Derby is a workout. Your legs and rear end need to be strong.
During practices, the team does some hockey drills. One of the most difficult is to do as many laps as possible in 10 minutes.
And what about those derby names? It’s part of the persona of derby. Many of the women pick names similar to their own. Most of their stage names sound fierce and mean something special.
“Everyone has a thought process for their name and their jersey number,” Eves said. “The girls pick both.”
Anna Maniac, aka Anna Cassube, is a 30-year-old barber in Omaha. She’s skated her whole life — her parents own a rink in her hometown of Wichita, Kan.
Cassube, with a small, athletic frame, and a shock of cropped black hair with blue streaks, is one of the team’s All Stars. They take the game on the road and compete around the region. Since roller derby is considered an amateur sport, none are paid.
They pay their own expenses, such as food and hotel rooms when traveling.
They also buy their own gear and uniforms. Roller skates cost $400 minimum. A woman carefully selects her skate wheels based on how she is built and whether she wants speed or stability.
“I like to go fast,” Cassube says. “I like to do tricks like jumps.”
The $12 ticket price at bouts, along with donations, pays for team expenses such as marketing and arena rental.
The team relies a lot on volunteers, such as Palimenio’s parents. They’ve watched her develop into a leader.
Some things haven’t changed, however.
“I was always pretty loud and obnoxious,” Palimenio says. “So this fits.”
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