The roller derby match between the Gorge Roller Girls and the Storm City Roller Girls at the Fort Dalles Readiness Center last Saturday drew fans from around the Gorge.
The Gorge Roller Girls are in their second season of play with the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), an international organization with over 400 active leagues. Their local league consists of the “Allstars,” which serve as their main competitive team, and “Blood & Gorge,” which is their B team.
Rachel Anderson, known as “Faye Spounder” to her teammates, has been the president of the Gorge organization since 2014. They formed with a handful of women in 2012, but now boast dozens of competitors and many more volunteers.
“Everyone is a close and cohesive unit,” said Anderson. “The thing we hear over and over again is how the sport saved someone, it helped their lives. It gives people who may never have played a competitive sport the chance to go out and feel good about themselves.”
So what is roller derby? In technical terms, roller derby is a contact sport played by two teams, each with five members, who skate around a track, with four players acting as “blockers” and one player acting as a “jammer;” the blockers play defense while the jammer attempts to score points by lapping or passing through opposing team members.
As with any sport, there are complexities that give roller derby a depth only an expert can elaborate on with accuracy, but even a first-time spectator can understand what roller derby is: Roller derby, from the first whistle, is physical chaos.
A mass forms between the two teams, blockers and jammers alike struggling to outmaneuver one another. Body checks fly and players fight to retain their balance atop four small wheels under each foot; some sprawl to the floor after a particularly hard hit.
When an opening emerges, the jammers shoot through and as suddenly as the chaos began, it stills. A brief armistice descends as the jammers skate silently around the track and the defenders reform their packs.
In this momentary peace, players focus on a rapid series of analyses; the jammers search for upcoming weaknesses to exploit, while the blockers anticipate the opposing jammer’s path and position themselves to intercept.
As each jammer arrives, in the order they broke through, the ensemble of checks and balance ensues and the crowd cheers in support. It is a tumultuous display of athleticism and skill, truly a sight to behold.
As president of the Gorge league, Anderson said roller derby has gone from a simple sport to an integral part of her life.
“Roller derby is part of the fabric of my life,” said Anderson. “The great thing about roller derby and our organization is that any level of commitment is welcome; there’s room for everyone. It’s more than just a competitive team, it’s a community.”
Roller derby is an increasingly popular global sport, and one with significant presence in Oregon. There are dozens of teams spread throughout the state, including seven that are associated with the WFTDA. Games last through the spring season, meaning the Gorge Roller Girls will have more bouts, including some at home in The Dalles; check out their website, www.gorgerollergirls.org, to learn more.