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R.I.P. — if you love it, you live it

If you love it, you live it.

It’s like anything, you give everything you have. It’s consuming, in a good way. To be better, you have to put the time in.

That could be said about a lot of things. What’s interesting is that this is being said by Rollergirls in Pagosa — R.I.P. — and it’s being said about roller derby.

It’s easy to understand where the enthusiasm, nay the passion for the sport, is created: You get to put on your old-school quad skates, suit up with mouth guards, helmets, wrist guards, and start skating on a track with nine other women while you “check” (which, let’s face it, to the average viewer seems like hitting) other women to help your team score. And, if that’s not enough to at least stir your competitive juices, you get a sweet nickname.

For instance, play this little game: Guess what local Pagosa Springs women go with the nicknames “Stashe,” “Rave N Fury” and “M Balmer.” In order, its Ashley Tippetts, Mara Koch and Rachel White. Nicknames are registered with the Woman’s Flat Track Derby Association, but Stashe, the nickname wrangler, is sure to find new Rollergirls a good one.

Roller derby, both as a sport and as a spectator sport, has seen its up and downs, but probably more than most people would guess. The reason being, the sport has been around far longer than most people guess. A common image that comes to mind is the popular 1975 futuristic film “Rollerball,” starring James Caan or the 2002 remake of the film starring rapper LL Cool J.

Long before either “Rollerball” was out, roller derby was around, but it took a few years of evolution to become the internationally competitive league sport that it is today or was in the ’70s.

Most sources contribute the sport to roller skating endurance races of the 1880s. Competitions would be held with a simple setup, the skater who was able to go the longest distance in a set amount of time would win. Some events would last six days, but 24 hours was the most common length. In this time, skaters would cross a track, banked or flat, normally wood. Naturally, even though discouraged, pushing, shoving and tripping would be involved.

It was in 1935, after the Great Depression had made dance-athons and walk-athons quite popular due to the large number of people out of work, that the Transcontinental Roller Derby was held. A team of a man and woman raced to go the distance of 3,000 miles, LA to New York City, on a track. One member of the team was required to be on the track at all times. The event was successful and organizer Leo Seltzer decided to take it on the road. It was during this time that the sport was shaped and truly formed.

Short courses were created. As a spectator sport, just like in hockey, the fans enjoyed when physical contact happened, as well as fights, spills and shoves, so these elements were concentrated and emphasized.

In the refined sport, there are two teams with five people on the track at a time. Each team consists of one jammer, usually donning a helmet with a star on it, and four blockers. The jammer scores the points on the team. Points are given each time a jammer passes an opposing skater. The blocker’s job is to block the opposing team’s blocker so the jammer can pass through the “pack” of skaters.

These are the basic rules used today, and the rules that the Rollergirls in Pagosa will compete with when their league is ready.

In 1948, Roller Derby debuted on TV and the next year, Seltzer founded the National Roller Derby League. After a few years, though, derby was off TV and the sport struggled. In the early ’70s it made a comeback, with interest and popularity in roller skating. In 1970, it reached its height. This was short-lived and along with the international oil crisis, in 1973, the sport collapsed.

While tiny blips were made here and there, nothing significant happened until the new millennia, and then it was from women. Starting in Austin, Texas, and moving throughout the U.S., the sport caught on and leagues, both banked track and flat track, were organized. Then, the sport got the extra boost of an A&E reality TV series highlighting the Austin league Lonestar Rollergirls.

Then, in December 2010, it came to Pagosa Springs.

“This isn’t your derby from the seventies,” Koch assures. There is much more athleticism. It’s not that flamboyant, not that fringe. These days, it’s your mothers, your businesswomen, your recent college graduate who are joining the sport.

White, also known as M Balmer, wanted a derby league for Pagosa Springs. The sport is fun, athletic and nontraditional — a great option for women not interested in typical sports (i.e. softball, basketball, volleyball, etc.), but who still want to compete. In the seven months since its formation, R.I.P. now has around 20 members of all levels. Some girls had never skated before they came to practice. After a few months, they haven’t become the best, but they can hold their own.

Coach Jacob Miskimens, “El Chupa,” says he’s seen a great improvement in the ladies over the past several months. There is now a core of around 10 strong skaters. Tippetts recalls one practice, the one where shoulder checks were first introduced — when she finally checked a girl good. She says she was on fire for weeks after that.

“I hadn’t been on skates in 20 years,” Koch says. “But it all comes back.”

The Rollergirls are always recruiting “fresh meat,” so if you’re interested, e-mail or call Koch at 946-2255.

Because the WFTA recommends that a league take a year to form before being competitive, it’ll be next season that the bouts (matches) begin. However, before that, August features the R.I.P.’s first scrimmage, against the Durango Roller Girls.

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