International Sales Rep for Optical Cable Corporation and mom of two boys, Vivian De Los Santos, was speaking with her boss one day when he suggested that she should try roller derby. Vivian did not know much about the sport, although she remembered back to when she was 13 years old growing up in Panama, where she loved to roller skate for hours with her friends.
“My boss told me I would be perfect for roller derby. He knew me pretty well, so I thought, okay, I guess I at least need to try this.”
The petite 5’1” mom of two says that since she hadn’t grown up in the States, she didn’t
know much about any stigma or preconceived notions attached to the roller derby of the previous century.
“I hadn’t seen any of the movies or anything,” she explains.
But when Vivian mentioned the idea to a couple of people she knew, they were surprised.
“They told me, ‘those people are probably mean and (rough).’ So I was like, ‘Why is my
boss telling me to do this? I had to find out,” says De Los Santos. Her boss turned out to be right.
“I went to the practice and fell in love with the girls,” she remembers fondly.
Vivian uses the term “girls” lightly as she explains that she was shocked to learn that
many of her new teammates were actually career professionals with masters and doctorate degrees, and others were very talented artists. She began to feel that she was part of a community with other moms just like her.
Interestingly enough, many of the players would call themselves introverts, yet the community and comradery is what seems to really draw the women together. The team participates in parades, charity projects like Habitat for Humanity, and other family and community activities to promote the team.
Though the Roller Derby is still similarly termed as the banked track, knock-down-drag-out derby portrayed in movies like Whip It (2009), it is quite different than the highly theatrical show of the past. In fact, flat track derby is currently the fastest-growing sport in the nation according to the local team, our Star City Roller Girls. Roller derby has gained popularity in the last fifteen years or so, and from somewhat of a grass-roots beginning has transformed into an legitimate sport, with the establishment of The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association in 2004. Roanoke area team, Star City Roller Girls, was founded in 2006 and began competing a year later.
So you may be wondering exactly what is roller derby of today and how is it played? Roller derby is still indeed a full contact sport which is played on a flat track by two opposing teams. Each team has five players, and there are three different positions on each team. These positions include a “jammer” or the one who can score the points by lapping members of the opposing team. Three “blockers” are tasked with keeping the other team’s jammer from pushing through the pack. The last player is called the “pivot” and skates in the pack with the blockers. She is the leader who calls the shots. The jammer wears a helmet with a star on it and the pivot wears a striped helmet in order to tell the positions apart. A roller derby game is called a “bout” and each thirty-minute half consists of multiple shifts, or “jams” which are two minute periods. The players do wear knee and elbow pads, as well as wrist guards and helmets since there is a good deal of contact. There are also rules that protect players from unsafe moves such as blocking in the back, and govern play to help make derby a safer contact sport.
We asked teammates Vivian De Los Santos and Sara McKnight what it’s like to balance motherhood, careers and sports. Both players gave credit to their families and husbands for their support.
“It’s busy but I’m thankful that I have a husband who supports what I’m doing and helps out a lot. He takes care of the kids while I’m at practice two days a week on Wednesdays and Sundays. My family life’s pretty laid back compared to some, but I really love having some time for myself,” says McKnight, mother of two.
De Los Santos agrees that life can be hectic, but she is grateful for a somewhat flexible work schedule and a supportive husband.
“As far as balance goes, when you want to do a lot of stuff in your life and to be an inspiration you need to forgive yourself. When I say that, I mean sometimes you have to let the house to be messy and prioritize. The people that (truly) love you won’t criticize or judge you for it; they’ll come in, have a glass of wine and fold laundry with you.”
De Los Santos recalls when she broke her leg three years ago at a practice, she wasn’t sure she would continue as a Roller Girl.
“It took me three months to be able to run again and in a few months I was back in skates. The mental toughness has been the hardest part for me,” she admitted. Her husband reminded her what the team had meant to her, and how he’d seen a spark in her since getting to know the women on her team.
“I realized that if I’m going to tell my children (not to) give up, then I have to be an example. And then for two straight weeks in a row after I broke my leg, my teammates brought dinner to my house.”
When asked what they enjoyed most about the sport, both Sara and Vivian noted that in a world of multitasking, the challenge of roller derby calls for them to be present in the moment.
“I enjoy the fact that when I go to practice there’s no time to think about anything else. I can completely concentrate on what I’m doing. It’s lots of fun and lots of hard work. I love getting in shape and being a part of a team,” says McKnight.
“I like the challenge; it is not easy. But what I like the most when I’m playing is that it’s one of the only times where I’m present and not multi-tasking in my head. I have to be there,” De Los Santos agrees.
De Los Santos, 46, encourages ladies who may be interested in the sport to give it a try. When asked what advice she would give other women, she explained that roller derby and being a part of the Star City Roller Girls have taught her not to make excuses.
“Depending on your age, let’s say you are over forty like me and you want to play, I’d say don’t wait for the ‘perfect’ time. Don’t say you’re going to wait to do something until you lose some weight,” she laughs.
If you or someone you know may be interested in becoming a Star City Roller Girl, or volunteering as a referee or non-skating official, the organization encourages you to check out their website at starcityrollergirls.com/get-involved. You can also contact them via email at email@example.com for more information or questions you may have concerning joining the team.
The SCRG play their home bouts at The Berglund Center and will be closing out their season at home on Saturday, October 29, 2016. They encourage you to come out and see them play!