Offutt Air force base, neb. --
At first glance, one could describe roller derby as chaotic. Skaters clad in helmets and pads circle the track, colliding with one another while shouting commands to their teammates. Look closer and one could see blocking and plays similar to what you would expect at a football game. The women who put on skates and take to the track transform from everyday people into hard-hitting, skating warriors. Two of these warriors on wheels are assigned to Offutt Air Force Base.
Tech Sgt. Stephanie Hawthorne is NCO in charge of the Model Operations Flight for the 16th Weather Squadron, 557th Weather Wing and Senior Airman Corrina Mussehl performs network support for the 595th Strategic Communications Squadron. These two Airmen, known on the track as “Dr. Skate-n-Hurt-Her” and “Blood, Guts and Corri” are members of the Omaha Rollergirls, a roller derby team. Hawthorne and Mussehl are part of a diverse team of women from various professions, including state caseworkers, medical technicians, stay-at-home moms and more.
Roller derby originated from skating endurance races in the 1930s and has experienced a revival since the early 2000s. The game is played by two teams on a flat, almost oval-shaped track. Each team sends out five skaters, four blockers and one jammer. Offense and defense happen at the same time. As they skate around the track, the four blockers try to help their jammer pass the opposing team’s blockers. Simultaneously, they’re trying to prevent the other team’s jammer from passing them.
Some of the skills these women honed in the Air Force are vital on the track.
“The military teaches you to be short, sweet and to the point, and that's exactly what you have to have on the track,” Hawthorne said. “In all the excitement you have to shout orders to your teammates to assist you, to protect your jammer, and to score points.”
Each Airman found roller derby in her own way. Hawthorne was inspired by watching the movie “Whip It.” She sought out more information from her friends, but she wasn’t able to find a team until she received an assignment to Offutt AFB.
Mussehl discovered the sport while rollerblading at a roller rink in Monterey, California, where she noticed people doing tricks on quad skates. When Mussehl started copying their moves, the skaters who noticed her abilities suggested she try out for roller derby.
The team practice is often as intense as an actual game. Skaters practice three to four times a week, working on endurance and strength training. Maintaining a stable derby stance both as an individual and when blocking as a team requires core and lower body strength.
“You get knocked down all the time, even at practice,” Mussehl said. “You're going to be terrible at first, but you have to keep trying and eventually you will get better. During scrimmages and games, you have to take the hits and then get right back up and keep going.”
The hard work with the Rollergirls has its benefits. Mussehl enjoys the stress relief and uses some of the drills from practice when she leads physical training for her squadron. Hawthorne’s physical performance has improved as well.
“I couldn't run because I had foot issues,” Hawthorne explained. “I had surgery on my foot and that helped, but the training helps build your endurance. This December was the first time in two years I've done a full component PT test and knocked it out of the park. I got a 96.8, which I was super happy about.”
In addition to the physical improvements, Hawthorne also felt more confident and assertive.
“As a weather forecaster, if we sit on any type of a go/no-go answer for the pilots, that could prevent them from completing their missions,” Hawthorne said. “It can be stressful telling a pilot, ‘no, the weather conditions are not favorable for the mission.’ You have to have the confidence and assertiveness.”
The players’ confidence is embodied in the alter egos they adopt when they lace up their skates. For many, the name is a natural fit, but for others it can empower someone who normally would be quiet and reserved. When Hawthorne tells people she plays roller derby, most people react with surprise and disbelief.
Hawthorne’s “Dr. Skate-N-Hurt-Her” originated from one of her favorite films, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and its main character, “Dr. Frank-N-Furter.”
“There’s a confidence that the character exudes throughout the movie and it is something that I wish to portray both on and off the track,” Hawthorne said. “I was playing around with names and my son actually suggested, ‘what about Dr. Skate-n-Hurt-Her?’
“I think that's where that alter ego comes in more. These girls get on the track and they give it their all. You're hitting people, and you're trying to tear through people, but then you get off the track and it’s high fives and nothing but love with these women who are just so sweet.”
Outside of the track, the Rollergirls volunteer their time to benefit charities such as the American Cancer Society, Youth Emergency Services and the Special Olympics. The team is a non-profit organization; all funds raised from the team go to developing the league or back into the community.
People interested in playing roller derby have a couple options. Women can try out for the Omaha Rollergirls at their annual summer boot camp. Men looking to play can apply to the Big O Roller Bros. A co-ed recreation league called “Sparks and Wreckreation” is also available. Girls and boys ages 8 – 17 can join the Omaha Junior Roller Derby league. The junior league is taught by current and retired Omaha Rollergirls.
To learn more, visit http://www.omaharollergirls.org.