Published on July 15th, 2013 | by Guest Contributor0
Retro Derby: Flashback to Roller Derby 1987
By RetroMouse Thunder
Twenty-five years ago, I was young, athletic, and had more energy than Speedy Gonzales. At the time I was 24 years old and a Professional Bank Track Skater, very agile, conditioned, and my feet were quick. I could ride a five star on the track, faster than anyone on the team, barreling down into the corners my wheels riding right at the lip edge of the track. Just sitting here typing, I can close my eyes and still feel the rush of air blowing in my face. Roller Derby was a sport that just kind of fell into my lap one day. I took to it like a duck to water and never looked back. Today, I am 2 ½ months away from my fiftieth birthday, my Golden years, my AARP Discount, and my guarantee that I will not be carded for beer anymore. The difference is I am still young at heart, my feet still move, I get my energy from cat naps, and well, I am back on a track. This time a flat track, I can still pick up some speed but unlike the old days keeping that pace is shorter lived. Reality is, wow, what a difference 25 years can make.
I first learned how to skate at a rink on a military base near my house in 1974. I had no instruction. At 11 years old, I just strapped on some skates, busted my rump about a million times, all the while watching how everyone skated. Eventually, the visuals paid off and before I knew It, I was dare-deviling all over the rink. Jumps, turns, baseball slides, and backward skating. By time I was in high school I had mastered Jam Skating Old School Style. By that time I was attending a public rink called Skateland West near my house, skating Friday and Saturday nights. They had speed skating lessons every week, but I could not afford them. The owner knew me well so he would let me in early some days to watch the class. Being a visual learner, that is all I needed. Soon, I was proficient at speed skating, which guaranteed me a free soda when I won the speed races during the sessions. When I came home from the rink, Roller Derby would be playing on my old black and white TV. I would literally stand in front of the TV jumping up and down as I watched the action of the Bay City Bombers or the Los Angeles Thunderbirds. I never imagined that one day I myself would be doing the same thing.
When I graduated high school at seventeen years old I left for the military. My skating stayed with me–I usually skated all over the base and down at the rink when I could. In 1987, I was stationed back in my hometown of San Antonio. One night I was working my second job of food delivery when I heard a commercial advertisement on the car radio. “San Antonio will be having try outs for a Professional Bank Track Roller Derby Team.” I think I about jumped out of my skin. I do know I was non-stop rambling about it when I got back to the office. That next weekend I met the founder and former pro derby skater of the team, Mando Romano, and stepped on the bank track for the first time. For those of you that have never been on a bank track it can be a little intimidating. Since I mostly skated flat surfaces, the angle of the bank track was indeed unnerving, but once I figured out cross step up and down on the angle I soon had no fear. Now if I can recall right, our bank track was much more steeper then the ones out on the market today. Back then it took 10 hours to set up or take down our track that was made from a special type of wood that would give just bit when you slammed in to it. Now, I hear a track can go up and down in four hours.
I was accepted to the teams first season in early 1987. Placed on the home team of the San Antonio Thunderbolts, I kept my childhood name, Mouse, and was given #14. I attended all practices religiously you could also catch me flying on that bank track everyday in between. I was formerly a long distance runner and I had the endurance of an Ironman. Everything I was taught by Mando and the other Coaches I practiced over and over. If there was one thing I knew for sure, it’s this: “Great athletes are not born that way, it is what they put into the sport that makes them GREAT.” Skating was my forte; I would spend hours spinning on the track, trying different techniques to make it work for me. “What’s the difference twenty-five years can make?” one might ask. Whip me forward that many years and I’ll tell you.
In May 2012, I was riding Harleys with some friends of mine when they mentioned they met some roller derby girls at a fundraiser. They also mentioned that their home court was 2 exits from my house. I had heard in years past that there was flat track roller derby in San Antonio but never gave it a second thought since all I knew was bank track. I decided to look them up, gave them a little history on myself, then asked if I could come out and watch them practice. I got a definite yes. On the following Monday, I went out to see the Bexar County Roller Girls. Sitting on the sidelines the first thing I noticed was all the gear they were all wearing. Knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards, some with butt pads, they all had helmets and when they smiled their teeth looked discolored. Took me a minute to realize they were wearing mouth guards. Back in my day, only the Jammer wore a helmet. We had no wrist guards. Instead, we had a class on how to fall. Rule number one, never ever stick your hands out to break your fall; instead, you reach up grab the front of your shirt with both hands and roll. That was our protection from getting broken wrists. Sometimes, it did not always work and I sprained and bruised my hands so bad that I started to wear Padded weight lifting gloves. I did stick some small foam volleyball pads under my pant tights to try and protect my knees. At high rates of speed it did not make much of a difference when you hit the floor, flipped the rail, or sailed through a kick board onto the concrete 6-7 feet down. I think I remember biting my tongue once, it did not dawn on me that a mouth guard could have prevented that. Though there was no wooden bank track, I could not believe these girls were smacking the stuffing out of each other falling hard onto the concrete track. I was hooked AGAIN.
I met the coach and founder, Hollow Point, a tiny lady with a booming voice who could zip along the track and pound the biggest players in her way. I also met the other two founders, Patty Rebel and Road Rash and Roulette. Hollow Point asked if I still skated, I told her it had been four years, since some old injuries from the military had caught up to me. She said they needed a trainer to condition the girls and offered me the position. After watching what had always been in my blood, who was I to say no?
Now, at this point in my life, I had been retired from the Military nine years and if there is something that retirement does not do for you, it’s keep you in shape, unless, of course you consider “round” a shape. Seems when I retried from work, I also retired from the gym. So, I vowed if I was going to whip these ladies into shape that I would make it a point to work twice as hard whipping myself into shape. I soon dumped out my garage and brought all my weight lifting equipment to the track. I re-read all my workout magazines and read up on different types of endurance and strength building exercises. Two months into my workout I realized I was dropping some serious inches and my strength was coming back. My teammates were adding strength too. It was then I strapped on my skates to see what I had left in me. Oh, I can tell you that even 4 short years of not being on skates can make you feel like it is your first time. I knew it was a confidence issue along with trying to find my groove. When you get older, balance is like your memory–you tend to forget it. That was an issue I corrected with yoga and pool exercises. While I was still contemplating going back to the track, I got to be bench coach for a few games, and that desire to be back on the track grew stronger and stronger. I finally talked to Hollow and she agreed to let me play in a mash up game. Wouldn’t you know it, I had bronchitis the whole week prior and my first game felt like I was running on half of a clogged lung. I was not a happy camper but proud that I held up the whole game.
I had my work cut out for me. I was able to pass the written test and the skills assessment. The one thing I had to work very hard on was my hits. It’s not that I couldn’t hit, it was the way I hit. My body would go Retro 80s and I’d be whacking like a true bank tracker from back in the day. Elbows, elbows, elbows. At least I could remember that you could not use forearms or back block in this newfound flat track game. I had so much more to learn.
As I sit here and write this piece, I just realized May 31st, 2013 was my first anniversary for joining the Bexar County Roller Girls. A lot has changed in a year: my shape is no longer round, I actually have muscle you can see, my speed has returned, and though I’m not as fast as I was in the 80s, I can still blow past skaters less than half my age. They say I can make Thunder Roll when I hit you on the track. I understand what they mean when I hear the audience yell out “Ohhhh!!” in unison right when I make a hit. My feet are getting quicker, but doing the toe stop dance is hell on my knees. I know only time will help me improve all these. I have been a blocker, pivot, and jammer for my current team. Same positions I held on the bank track.
I can say there is only one thing I dislike that changed in the last twenty-five years, that’s the game of stroller derby. In the 80s, our pack was always moving at a good clip, if you were a jammer you needed speed to get back around. Playing flat track now and making the pack come to almost a complete standstill is for the birds. To keep this game rolling past the time they lay me in the ground, they better re-think strolling and get rolling or the game may be buried before me.
Unlike the Eighties I now have a family that fully supports me and enjoys watching me on the track. They were not in my life in the Eighties so derby is new to them. The first game my wife and kids attended I was bench coaching and one of our best jammers broke her leg. With a delay in the game, my son, who prefers hitting the books rather than playing sports, was visiting from NYU, He walked up to me and said “Mom, watching roller derby is like watching small children play in the highway.” I busted out laughing. My little girl is my Mini Me. Hollow Point Named her DawnA Destruction. She helps me train the new girls with exercises and is the ball of energy I used to be. She has assisted the bench coaches, performed NSO duties and is my biggest fan. With that said, I look back and realize I have been blessed twice in my life, doing a sport that I truly love. Bank track, flat track, young, old, no gear, gear, agile, senile, elbows, no elbows, high speed roller pack, stroller pack, Ironman, strong old woman, Mouse, RetroMouse Thunder, #14, #1963, the difference twenty-five years can make.