Pepper in some expletives and a few laughs, and you have a typical practice from the Atlanta Roller Derby Girls. The teams are a fair mix of LGBTQ and non, and all of them are incredibly tough, strong, and athletic. Add to that clever names that rival those in drag, and you’ve got a recipe for hilarity — and a black eye if you’re lucky, punk!
Established in the fall of 2004, the group has four home teams: Apocalypstix, Denim Dragons, Glamma Rays, and Toxic Shocks. There’s also a C team, The Jukes of Hazzard; a B team, Rumble Bs; and the all-star team, Dirty South Derby Girls, who play on an international level.
The experience of the players varies greatly — some have been doing it for just over a year, while others, like Peggy Cawley, have been at it for a decade plus.
Photo by Yasmeen Ali
“This is my fourth year with the Atlanta team,” says Peggy, AKA Rosie Derivator. “Before that, I was on the Jacksonville team for four years … before that, I was in Virginia Beach.”
How’d she get started? Try this blast from the past:
“The Virginia Beach team messaged me on MySpace,” she says. “I had never been into sports all that much, but the athleticism and aggression stuck out to me. After the first practice I thought, ‘I don’t know what this is but I want to be a part of it.’”
Everyone has a different and interesting origin story, like McKenzie Hobbs, AKA Slams McKenzie, who has been watching roller derby ever since she was a child. She took the first opportunity she could to play in college.
After a breast cancer scare at the age of 30, Amanda Lusk, AKA Nips of Fury, figured life is too short and to take more chances.
“It was recommended to me by a friend,” Lusk tells Georgia Voice. “After two practices, I was hooked.”
Photo by Yasmeen Ali
One of the best parts about roller derby has got to be the nicknames. Try these noms des plumes: Arithrottle, Hermoine Danger, Rebel Yellow, Katya Slippin, Bam Grier, Afro Dykee. (Feel it yet?)
“Most of the time you come up with [your roller name] yourself,” Peggy says. “It can be a play on words, something that makes you sound tougher or funny. Or it could be a complete accident.”
An accident is pretty much what happened with Lusk. After a particularly aggressive and motivating practice, Lusk/Nips screamed what is now her nickname, and a veteran player on the team determined she was stuck with that name hence.
But what draws a person to roller derby in the first place? The better question might be what doesn’t. For Peggy, it was finding a group of people she felt she finally belonged in.
“I was always on the outskirts of popularity, and a little bit nerdy,” says Peggy. “And these were all people like me — crazy hair, tattoos … there is a sense of inclusion that is always trying to better itself.”
Lusk has a similar take on why she loves roller derby.
Photo by Yasmeen Ali
“[The team has] empowering, strong, and athletic women,” she says. “It’s so motivating! There can be a bit of tough love, at least when you’re fresh meat, but it shows you how it’s done and how to be stronger.”
All of the Atlanta roller derby teams are the farthest away from discrimination. Players on the teams are straight, bisexual, pansexual, transgender, and of various ethnicities. And even more importantly, no one is treated differently for it. Peggy can’t recall any instances in the past of hate speech or negativity in relation to their sexual identity or ethnicity, from crowds at matches or otherwise.
“Atlanta has a very open mind,” says Peggy. “Come as you are, and we care all the same. There is no judgement here; it is who you are and how you love.”
Players come from all around the country, like McKenzie Hobbs, who is originally from Arkansas. But there is something about Atlanta that made it the place to be for her.
“Atlanta is much more competitive than my team in Arkansas,” Hobbs admits. “And there is something about the city that drew me here. It is so much more diverse.” She shares a story about the exact moment she knew she made the right choice to join the team.
“I was skating against Queen Loseyateefa, a veteran player, at a practice,” begins Hobbs. “I ran into her and she shoved me about two feet back into the air. As I was going down I remember thinking to myself, ‘This is what it’s all about.’”
Despite the tough love that naturally comes with a sport like this, the women are all good friends, and you can see that watching them interact before and during practice. They are taking what they are doing seriously, but they’re also having a good time.
They crack jokes with each other right after they crack each other’s skulls.