The rough and tumble sport of roller derby doesn’t seem like a place for comfort, patience, and love. But the Lansing Vixens say their team experience is exactly that.
LANSING, Mich.- Smashsquatch ties up her skates, pulling the strings as tight as they will go. A green star covers her helmet. Mouth guard in, kneepads on. She has a permanent scar on her leg from surgery after sustaining a fracture last season. Her quad skate with toe-ups touch against the smooth surface of the track and she glides limitlessly.
Seconds later, a whistle is blown, Smashsquatch, a team captain, is blocked by fellow teammate Rabidy-Ann in an interleague scrimmage. Smashsquatch is used to being in a jam, and although she’s been playing on the Lansing Derby Vixens roller derby team for three seasons, some hits still hurt more than others. After several fake-outs, Smashquatch breaks through the pack and makes a trip around the track scoring four points. The basic idea is to get the star through the pack.
“Derby is for everybody, every single body type, everybody has a role,” said Courtney “Smashsquatch” Mellberg. Nicknames are a big thing in derby, a personal reflection of the person’s alter ego.
The Lansing Derby Vixens are growing as a Michigan roller derby program and compete in the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA). The team formed in 2010, yet struggled to find a home in Lansing. They turned to Flint, community centers and high school auditorium stages to hold practices.
Today, the league has over 50 skaters and two competitive teams, The All-Stars and Capital Corruption. Lansing Junior Vixens were added to support a surge in junior participation. Athletes find and flock to the league for a variety of reasons.
“I was going through a really crappy time in my life, I had just gotten divorced, I felt crappy and didn’t have a lot of confidence,” said Constance “Ms. Hyde” Snelling, a fifth-season veteran on the team. “I met this girl through a friend who was like, ‘I play roller derby you should come and try it would be fun’. I got in my head and thought, ‘Like I can go and hit bitches and be a badass, that would be awesome.’ And that’s what got me.”
When you get into roller derby it becomes much more, said Ms. Hyde.
“The level of comradery, support, the number of new friends I have, [roller derby] has welcoming become my life,” Ms. Hyde said.
Members come from all walks of life: stay-at-home parents, nurses, members of the corporate world, people who work in factories, Michigan State professors, and even law students.
“There is no shame, there is no hiding, there is no anything in Derby. It is very open it is very inclusive, everyone has a place, everyone matters to the team,” Ms. Hyde said.
Lansing is a big enough city for the team to make connections and feel enough like a family.
“Just the fact that we’re in Lansing, were so centrally located we can go skate against other teams in Michigan alone,” said Jasmine Rice, an eight-season veteran on the team. Due to personal reasons, we will only use Rice’s roller derby name.
There are over 20 teams in Michigan, including the Upper Peninsula, and all compete in the “Mitten Kitten Tournament,” a round-robin style hosted by the Lansing team.
The Vixens are very close with the Armageddon’s who lead the Mitten Mavens, also located in Lansing. Both teams support each other and hold mutual practices together when possible.
“The unfortunate thing with roller derby is because it’s not in the mainstream, it makes it a little bit more difficult to get venues for certain times,” Ms. Hyde said.
The Vixens must manage their priorities, deciding between holding games to help WFTDA rankings or holding games against other competitors in the area, all while taking the growth of the junior team into account.
The team practices Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Roller derby started as an entertainment sport in the 1930s, but since evolved into an athletic sport involving competition and strategy.
Smashsquatch helps develop training plans for the team, watches footage of competitors and sets short and long-term goals.
“Tuesday nights are for skills and drills, and every other Tuesday we do interleague scrimmages,” Smashsquatch said. “Thursdays we do drills, a few of us have been to a few clinics, we idolize the Scald Eagle Lady Trample clinics, they are the best of the best. We bring back what we learn to the team and workshop it. Sundays are two hours of skating hard and fast.”
While traditions still exist, the Vixens still undergo change. The team cycled through full-time coaches and six months ago, ultimately decided to be a skater-coached team and use a training committee composed of athletes.
“Coaches, while we absolutely value their effort and time, it’s a lot of work for someone to volunteer out of the goodness of their hearts and to be away from their family,” Ms. Hyde said. “We have skin in the game now, our training committee is out there on the track and knows what the team needs to get better at.”
Off the track, the Vixens are family. Ms. Hyde and Smashsquatch are even Derby Wives.
“Often times when people are going through 101 fresh on the team, sometimes you just find that one person you really click with quickly and so that’s often referred to as your derby wife,” Jasmine Rice said. “They are your emergency contact, your best friend on the team.”
The Lansing Derby Vixens are offering a Derby 101 class, every Sunday from 3-5 p.m., at Summit Sports and Ice Complex.