EVERETT – Her Boeing colleagues know her as Stace Olsen. But when the 31-year-old project manager from Lynnwood pulled on her skates for her second-ever roller derby practice, she was Eryn Blockabitch, and she was ready to bash.
Then bout drills started and Blockabitch went down hard. She stayed there, her tailbone cracked in two.
“It definitely gets rough out there,” Olsen said.
In retrospect, she wasn’t quite ready for contact. And, said Olsen, many start-up women’s roller derby leagues – they’re popping up all over the country – make the same mistake.
Too often, inexperienced roller girls try to stage spectator bouts before they have what it takes.
That’s why purple-haired, eyebrow-pierced Olsen and four of her friends, the collective brains behind Jet City Rollergirls, plan to train hard, hit harder and bide their time.
The Jet City Rollergirls comprise Everett’s new flat-track roller derby league.
Olsen and the Rollergirls held their first practice on Aug. 1. Eventually, they hope to fill the Everett Events Center; for now they’ll settle for the Everett Skate Deck – complete with golden disco balls, birthday party pennants, dim lighting and soft techno music.
“We’re excited to put on a good show,” Olsen said. “But we don’t want to embarrass ourselves. We know it’s going to take a while.”
Olsen, who grew up in Monroe, hasn’t been skating long. She discovered women’s roller derby less than a year ago, when her firefighter husband began volunteering for the Rat City Rollergirls, a well-established league based in south Seattle.
But Olsen, a retired Seattle Warbirds women’s football player – “strong, sturdy and aggressive” is how she describes herself – fell in love right away. Roller derby is a fast-paced, theatrical sport built on cheap thrills and a passionate, raucous fan base.
During a roller derby bout, two teams of five skaters fly around a track. Each team includes a pivot, three blockers and a jammer.
The pivot and blockers skate together in a pack and do their best to keep the opposing team’s jammer from fighting past for a score. In theory, neither elbowing nor tripping is allowed – only hip and shoulder checks.
In reality, there’s room for interpretation. Inertia usually does the rest.
“I didn’t play sports in high school,” Olsen said. “I’m not a big gym person. But this is a great workout, and I’m into the punk culture. Roller derby, the hitting, it definitely gives me a rush.”
None of Jet City’s founders is a roller derby veteran, each is just a self-styled “underdog.”
Thea Starr, aka ‘Nova-Pain;’ Vani Hoit, who moonlights as ‘Ruby Ruckus;’ Heather Bissonnette, the infamous ‘Violent Violet;’ and Augustina Blair, ‘Santa Ria’ met this spring – all ‘fresh meat’ recruits determined to make their mark with Tacoma’s Dockyard Derby Dames.
Last month Olsen decided to bring roller derby north; she couldn’t stand the commute. She knew starting a league from scratch would be a challenge, but fortunately, roller derby’s “do-it-yourself” vibe has appealed to her all along.
It’s 10 p.m. on Aug. 1 and Jet City coach Nate Campbell, a former skate dancer, has worked the women hard. As the Rollergirls run through one last drill, the rink fills with giggles, groans and shouts of encouragement.
“She’s catching up, she’s catching up!”
“I made you earn it!”
“That lean hurts, man.”
“Gotta learn how to fall!”
“Stay in the circle, wild one!”
“She’s like a wall with those hips. That’s right, us with the booties!”
Roller Derby has been around since the Depression, when entertainer Leo Seltzer turned skate into spectacle.
Originally, both men and women raced around a track, colliding every so often. But the carnage soon took center stage.
By the 1950s bouts drew more than 30,000 fans and top skaters soaked up celebrity status. Roller derby died out during the 1970s, despite the release of “Rollerball,” a 1975 satire starring James Caan where ultra-violent roller derby matches replaced wars.
Since the A&E cable network’s “Rollergirls” aired in January, America’s roller derby ranks have swelled, Olsen said.
Today, more than 80 leagues send plaid-skirted, armored, long-stockinged amateurs into battle. Leagues based in Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane, Olympia and Bellingham belong to the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.
Olsen believes Everett is ripe for roller revival as well.
In March, the Rat City Rollergirls packed the Everett Events Center for an exhibition bout. Nearly 5,000 people attended. If all goes well, the Jet City Rollergirls hope to kick off their inaugural season on Halloween 2007, with a Heaven-and-Hell-themed bout.
“The Rat City event was so exciting,” said Tammi Bryant of the Events Center. “I think there’s a lot of interest in roller derby. It’s fun and very entertaining. People who saw it that first time are going to want to come back.”
In the interim, Blockabitch and Co. will patiently practice their turns and crossovers, fine-tune their timing and hitting. The Jet City Rollergirls know fame is a few laps away. Don’t expect them to lose focus.
“It’s the adrenaline I love,” Starr said. “That’s what keeps me coming back.”