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Roller-Rama

Like most girls born in the '70s, Amanda Gagliardi grew up on roller skates, enraptured by Xanadu and the Amazonian Roller Derby girls. So when a friend from Seattle called her earlier this year with an "awful" story about local girls recruiting for a new skate league, Gagliardi was incredulous. To her, it was a childhood dream come true. She knew she had to bring roller derby to Denver.

Two weeks ago, the Rocky Mountain Rollergirls took their first few laps together around the rink at Fat City. The eight girls present ranged in skill level from those who obviously hadn't been on skates since they were kids to one former figure skater. But they were all tough chicks who were ready to rumble.

"There is no typical roller girl," Gagliardi says. "They range in age from eighteen to forty. Some are housewives, some are hydrologists, some are financial analysts like myself. Most of the roller girls have a punk-rock edge, but beyond that, it's all over the board.

"I'm constantly trying to hit home that you're not just skating around in skirts," she adds. "You're blocking people, you're skating through them, and you're gonna fall down and you're gonna get hurt. The whole game is about stopping people with your body. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that it's going to be hard on your body. You have to be of a certain mentality to be in roller derby. You have to just not give a shit."

After a few trips around the Fat City rink, the roller babes sat down to some fried pickles and mozzarella sticks and some straight talk about the history and what's ahead. Gagliardi explained that roller derby was born as a quaint sport in the 1930s and experienced a rebirth in the 1970s -- with a lot more glam and guts -- and then again in 2001 in Austin. There are currently twelve leagues nationwide, and Gagliardi notes that the Rocky Mountain league is the United States' newest organization.

But, she says, the first bouts and inter-league games for RMRG won't be held for at least a year because there's still so much training and prepping to do. First they have to recruit more women, then everyone will have to perfect their speed skating, falling and jumping (over fallen players) skills. Once the basics are conquered, they must divide into five-person teams and each hold fundraisers to pay for skates, costumes and rink time. And, of course, the most important aspect of roller derby: They must find the perfect team theme, costumes and personal names.

Roller derby is high camp, and that's where the real attraction lies for most players. Bad-ass hot chicks in tight outfits and quad skates zoom around a track, hip-checking their opponents into the railing. Young women on teams like the Furious Truckstop Waitresses, the Hell Marys and the Fight Attendants take on fake names and bad-girl alter egos, dubbing themselves Hell O'Kitty, Misty Meaner and Lucille Brawl and skating around in everything from Daisy Dukes (Texas's Honky Tonk Heartbreakers) to naughty nurse costumes (Arizona's Bruisers) while playing up rivalries. Bouts feature comic announcers and a penalty wheel that deals out punishments such as skating duels, truth or dare and spankings.

Self-professed "corporate monkey" Catherine Mabe, aka Jayne Manslaughter of RMRG, enjoys the chance to live a double life and meet other like-minded women. Plus, roller derby is a nice alternative to going to a gym and a good outlet for her aggression. "I'm all for anything that keeps me from taking it out on some poor deli clerk," she says.

And surely, most deli clerks wouldn't want to face the types of beatdowns the RMRG girls are in for. "Most are minor, and most are bruises, bigger hematomas that need draining, black eyes. But there's a girl on the Carolina league who has titanium in her arm -- and that was from a practice bout," says Gagliardi, aka Precious Moments. "You see everything in between, too: broken arms, broken legs and people with pins in their ankles. Knee injuries are the most common, then dislocation of the shoulder."

The Texas Rollergirls 2003 Championship DVD shows one of the more famous injuries. "You actually see a girl dislocate her shoulder during the bout, and then you see them trying to put it back in so ostensibly she could just get up and start skating again," Gagliardi says. "It doesn't happen, and in fact, she's still on the injury list now, a year later. Right now, eight of the seventeen girls on the Texas Hotrod Honeys team are out with injuries."

And things can get a little explosive between the players -- which is to be expected when you get a bunch of tough, DIY-or-die gals together. For instance, Austin's original Texas Roller Derby (TXRD) became two very separate leagues in a dispute over insurance and financial matters. Similarly, the emerging RMRG league split up before it even had its first skate at Fat City. Two days after Gagliardi began looking into starting up a league, she met another Denver girl and a recently transplanted Carolina Rollergirl who both wanted to help organize a league. One of the girls wanted a set and rigorous schedule right away, but Gagliardi didn't feel like they were ready for that. "We hadn't seen every rink," she says. "We didn't want to limit ourselves to just one or two rinks, and we didn't want to randomly pick days when we didn't know if those days are crowded or if they're full of kids."

The other two split off and took most of the initial players, but Gagliardi didn't let the infighting end her dream. She began another recruiting effort, and the Carolina Rollergirl is now skating with RMRG again.

Besides the challenge of convincing enough girls who are over eighteen and have good health insurance to fill at least two five-player teams (plus alternates), the RMRG's success hinges on finding the perfect rink. It has to be willing to let bands perform, have a bar so the fans can get boozy and rambunctious, and possess a rink large enough to hold the 500 to 1,000 fans who typically show up. Plus, the venue has to allow the fans on to the floor since part of the excitement of the new wave of roller derby is the proximity of the bystanders. Instead of falling against a railing when they're pushed off the track, players run into the front row of fans.

The Texas Rollergirls help support their rink by putting much of the money they make off the $10 to $12 admission back into the rink, which allows the owners to make improvements. "If you can show [the rink] that the derby is a moneymaking opportunity, they're going to overlook things they might otherwise see as an issue," Gagliardi says.

While all that's being worked out, the league is still going forward. This weekend, Buckshot Betsy and Misty Meaner of the Texas Rollergirls are coming out to help recruit and train. On Friday, August 27, they'll host a movie night at the Bug Theatre to show the Texas Rollergirls Championship DVD, followed by a meet-and-greet at the Squire Lounge -- during which all of the gals will be wearing roller skates. The next day, the Texas girls will talk business and show the RMRG girls the skills they'll need to be competitive.

Gagliardi is optimistic that roller derby will catch on with women in Denver the way it has in other cities. "At this point, there's no way of knowing. You just have to press on, make a group of girls and see how it all unfolds."

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Michelle Baldwin

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