Wheels of Steel: Gate City Roller Girls


(Provided courtesy of Gate City Roller Girls)


On the edge of eastern Greensboro sits a former warehouse now inhabited by the strong and swift women of a growing roller derby team. The smell of female ferocity radiates as soon as the glass door opens. 

All across the floor, just in front of the track of women who speed by, are piles of high-heels, coat hangers, gym bags, decorative helmets, pink and black skates, cookies, and bottles of water. Old-school hip-hop booms overhead and the aroma of a hard day’s work shows through sweat-stained tank-tops. Welcome to a late-night practice with the Gate City Roller Girls. 

 “We work hard, that’s why it smells in here,” said Ivy Barger ’95, otherwise known on the track as “Saint Knives.” 

Women’s flat-track roller derby consists of two teams. Five members from each team skate at the same time, working offense and defense concurrently. Each team chooses one “jammer,” the skater who will attain all the points with the help of her other four teammates, the “blockers.” The teams also assign one of their blockers as the “pivot” to later become a jammer. 

To help distinguish the jammers, blockers, or pivots, various helmet designs are in use as the skaters’ wheels thunder and swoosh. Jammers have two stars on their helmets, pivots a striped cover, while blockers’ helmets remain the original design. Though some display stickers saying, “My derby wife doesn’t (expletive) with white dudes.” The game or “bout” has two halves, both lasting for 30 minutes. The team whose jammer has the most laps wins. 

In February 2010, Greensboro saw its first interleague roller derby team, the Gate City Roller Girls. Three teams evolved from the Gate City Roller Girls into intra-league teams: the Battleground Betties, Elm Street Nightmares, and Mad Dollies. Several sponsors including Wild and Crazy Vintage and Figaro Salon help fund roller events and bouts. The rollers donate a portion of their proceeds to charity.

Having begun their practice laps with “toe stops,” the rollers swung by elegantly, gliding over the cement floor to a braking halt, the “turn around stop.” Even this basic drill requires balance, quickness, coordination, sturdiness, discipline, and not to mention bruising from swinging arms or the hard floor. 

“This sport attracts athletic women,” said Barger. “And those who have never been in sports before.”

For many of the rollers, the sport has greatly affected their lives, often anchoring them to this new passion. 

“I came to this a total couch potato. Now I think about it all the time, I dream about roller derby,” said Lisa Dillon also known to her fellow rollers as “Doll Face McSuckit.”  

Roller Derby is an alternative gymnasium. Rollers pay membership dues, which sounds like a visit to the gym. However, this workout is on wheels. On and off of the track, the rollers have formed a cohesive and open community that shares a healthy competitiveness. They are a tight family. 

“Some people out there might think you’re a badass; some others don’t know, though,” said Kennedy Dillon, aka “John F. Killing Spree.” “My friend compared me to Betty White one day. Hell, I could handle Betty, but we don’t actually beat each other up out there. We’re a female family and our warehouse is our home away from home.” 

These resilient rollers meet for two hours on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday from 7-9 p.m. to practice fundamental skills and to hang out. Some devote 10 hours a week or more.