Published on September 5th, 2011 | by Malice Munro0
Vienna Oi!Star Rollergirls: Blood, Sweat, and Derby in Central Europe
By Sarah Chamberlain
Disclaimer: The views contained in this article are observations of a visiting skater. They are not meant to reflect the opinions of the Vienna Oi!Star Rollergirls.
I arrive at the Sport und Fun Halle in Vienna, Austria’s second district, a few minutes late. The modest rec center is obscured by the “Stadion” subway stop, which doubles as a shopping center that rivals the size of the nearby soccer stadium. I wander up and down the street several times before I realize where the Vienna Oi!Star Rollergirls’ practice venue is.
Though I’ve been in touch with several of this new league’s skaters via Facebook before arriving in Vienna to study music until December, I’m extremely nervous when I walk in. I’m wearing a shirt from the Circle City Derby Girls, my home league, with jeans and Converse and a face full of makeup. Clutching my smallish purse—I’m heading to a party after the practice, and my skates cannot be shipped from America—I realize that this is the only time I’ve come to a derby practice without lugging a heavy duffel bag full of gear. No wonder I feel stupid.
When I see the small group of geared-up girls gliding around in circles, the eloquent German speech I’ve practiced on the subway vanishes from my mind. I cling to the net surrounding the tiny roller hockey rink. A tall girl in leggings, skull-sprinkled hot pants and a Vienna Oi!Star Rollergirls tee shirt skates up and says hello. I squeak out something in German that amounts to: “I am called Malice. I come from America. I would like to help. How do I go in? Please may I to come in?”
The tall girl, friendly but perhaps a bit confused, invites me into the rink, where I meet one of the girls I have spoken with online: a slight, wispy girl who skates with a Bonnie-Thunders-esque hunch. Her derby name is Klara Croft. She is as organized and articulate, though I learn later she is only 19 years old. The rest of the team—tonight, there are 6 girls at practice—skates up, smiling. I’m relieved that they know who I am.
For now, I continue to speak German, peppered with English derby vocabulary: “I can help with drills. Or organization. I can NSO your scrimmage with Munich.” The scrimmage, which is coming up in October, will be VOSRG’s first major event, and part of a weekend-long practice boot camp for the two new leagues, which were founded at roughly the same time.
Klara smiles. “This is exactly what we need.” The skaters politely speak English with me, even though I insist they speak German to help me learn. They also insist on finding skates and gear for me at some point during my visit. “We want you to skate with us and beat us up,” a skater clarifies.
I step aside while the skaters pair up and work on a simple cat-and-mouse drill. Since they all train each other, they skate until they are too tired to keep going, then they drink water. A powerfully-built girl with short hair invites me to share my observations.
I start in German: “When one…when one jams…you must always move the feet, because then the blocker cannot…she cannot…may I speak English?” They nod enthusiastically. I begin wildly spewing advice, trying desperately to speak slowly, hopping around on “fast feet,” pulling girls up to demonstrate booty blocking. I break out a drill Quad Almighty taught the Circle City Girls to work on footwork and comfort on one’s toestops. With the exception of a few tailbone-plants, the skaters catch on quickly and kick ass. The hour-long practice ends with 40 laps. The girls have invented a drill where they try their best to sprint 40 laps in 20 minutes while assisting each other. They need help with whips, but their pushes are fantastic. I cheer them on, reminding them to keep their derby form.
“If someone came up to you and hit you right now, would you get knocked over? If the answer is yes, you need to skate lower,” I yell through cupped hands. I kind of like this coaching thing. I start doing planks in the middle of the rink while the skaters lap me—I feel guilty otherwise. They make it through 40 laps in 15 minutes.
I originally plan to demonstrate a correct arm whip while the skaters stretch, but I notice Klara wincing, so I sit down with her. “Are you okay?” “No,” she answers. She pulls off her left skate (black with pink flames up the sides and Atom Wheels shipped in from England) and pulls down her sock to reveal a multi-layered blister the size of a half dollar on the arch of her foot. It’s disconcerting proof that this young league is serious about their sport.
She offers me her skates which I gratefully try on and take a few laps in. They feel wobbly and unsteady. I’m afraid to cross over or T-stop. When I slide in next to her, she asks me what I think. “They’re a little wonky,” I say. “I think your trucks are loose.” “I just got them,” she says, showing me. Another skater and I explain that she can tighten them down. She didn’t know it was okay to squish the bushings when you adjust your trucks. “That’s why they’re there,” I explain. She beams. “Good. Then I will squish them to death.”
I wait for the skaters while they shower. Klara comes out, refreshed, her shiny red hair free of her helmet. “Did you get something to put on your foot?” I ask. “Yes,” she smiles. “My derby wife gives them to me.” She holds up a pack of blister Band-Aids. I’m stunned. “You guys know about derby wives?” “Yes. I love mine.” It’s Anke, the strong blonde who encouraged my feedback. I explain that I have two derby wives, and Klara is not amused. “You cannot have two derby wives.” “Well, what about a derby wife and a derby mistress?” I counter. “That is different,” she says decidedly.
The next stop is a tavern where we drink Radler—a sweet mix of beer and lemonade—and I sit in on a league meeting. Two more skaters join us here. If I can’t keep up with the German—I embarrass myself several times when I try—one of the girls will give me a rundown in English. A treasurer is elected, dues amounts are decided, a photo shoot for viennarollergirls.com is planned and we even talk about uniforms. Though the league’s logo is red and white, the colors of the Austrian flag, Anke explains an idea for travel team uniforms in Pepto pink and chocolate brown, riffing on the colors of the touristy Viennese café chain Aida. I have to admit, it’s a pretty cute idea.
Before I run off to the party in the 15th district, I sincerely thank these dedicated women for welcoming me into their fold for the next few months. I explain to them that I truly want to help, even though I feel silly coaching, lapsing into English because I get too excited to speak German.
Klara shakes her head, brushing my thanks and apology off her delicate shoulders. “That is the philosophy of derby,” she says in her charmingly accented English. “Where you go, you are always welcome.”
I take to the subway smiling, with a practice plan for next Friday and dreams of beating the Munich Rollin’ Rebels dancing in my head.
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