Eyewitness News Special Report: Pretty Bruised

Posted at: 05/19/2013 8:39 PM
Updated at: 05/20/2013 11:04 PM
By: Maarja Anderson

After putting in their daily 9-5, the 35 women that make up the Harbor City Roller Dames lace up their skates to knock each other around a little bit.

They didn't just sign-up for this, they tried-out for it.

"You have to push yourself at every practice, obviously we want to get better and continually get better and that takes a lot of work," said Keely Johnson, or Norwegian Squirrel as she is known on the track.

At their Wednesday night practice, the Roller Dames are scrimmaging, practicing their blocks dame against dame.

"In this group you aren't looked down on for being aggressive or being rough and tough, but the camaraderie is great," said Emma Peters-Axtell, or Soko Rebel. "We beat each other up on the track and then we get off the track and we're all friends."

The Roller Dames are in their fourth season and are now expanding to two teams. Recently, they added Missle Rose to the roster.

"I went to a bout in October with my friend and I had never seen it or heard of it," said Missle Rose. "I thought, 'wow, that is the coolest thing I've ever seen,' and I really wanted to try it."

Her real name is Ellen Turner and she works at the Whole Foods Co-op, but on the track she has an alter-ego just like the rest of the team.

Norwegian Squirrel's teammates call her "Squirrely" and she works at the Lake Superior Zoo. She's also one of the team point leaders.

"As a jammer my goal is to get through the pack first and score point," said Norwegian Squirrel.

Also racking up the points is captain Soko Rebel.

"I love that it's an aggressive sport, I get to come here and really give it my all," said Soko.

Four years on the team, Soko knows full well roller derby is a contact sport. She tore up her knee a while back and was out for months. The Roller Dames say they are constantly bruised, but injuries are just a part of the sport.

The Dames are also battling an old stereotype.

"I think a lot of people think about roller derby from the 1980s and they think about it more as theatrical than they do as athletic. We really want to put our name our there as athletes," said Soko.

About once a month, their moves on the practice track are put to the test. They travel across Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Dakotas, facing teams in Saturday matches called bouts. Northlanders catch the action on their home track at the DECC.

Eyewitness News was at the DECC as the Roller Dames took on their biggest rivals, the Fargo-Moorhead Derby Girls.

Nearly 1,000 fans readied for the starting line up, but before the real hitting began, the two teams did a practice lap, offering roller derby 101 to new fans.

Each team has four blockers and together they form the pack. Behind them, each team has a jammer. With large stars on their helmets, the jammers' job is to break through the pack. Each time they pass an opponent, they score a point.

The fans were young, old, and rowdy, even if they didn't all to seem to know what was going on.

"They are skating in a circle and the one with the star is pretty cool because everybody is really happy when they do good," said Tommy Weaver of Duluth.

But the die hards are there to help us newbies out. Arielle Shnur use to play for the Roller Dames, now she sits on the edge of the action in what's known as shipwreck seating.

"So you can see Fargo-Moorhead's jammer is going around and catching points while our point scorer is in the box," said Shnur as she explained the game to Eyewitness News.

After a 30-minute first half, the Roller Dames are ahead, but it's close.

"We are winning by a good spread right now. They just beat us so we're hoping to win," said Wright Around Ya.

The Roller Dames hold onto their tight lead, beating their rivals 161-157. It's a close win that brings home the gold and some new fans. Many fans said they'd be back for the next bout to cheer on the Dames again.

"I met a friend in college that did roller derby and I came to a practice and absolutely fell in love, they threw me on skates and I haven't looked back," said Soko.

She's not looking back, nor are her teammates, unless of course, they're trying to keep a jammer from getting by.