The Brooklyn Bombshells are not your stereotypical women. They are tough roller derby skaters who have built themselves into a rough and tumble team, empowering women with that Brooklyn swagger that says, “don’t mess with me!” with a smile.
The Bombshells are part of the Gotham Girls Roller Derby League, one of eight teams that play each other and then combine to create an all-star team that competes nationally for honors and respect. All the women know each other and are teammates in the end, though they compete on a borough basis. Roller derby is an international sport that dates back to the 1930’s with a growing number of women of varying backgrounds and education joining a sport that combines athleticism with attitude.
The Brooklyn Bombshells played the Bronx Gridlock in a derby bout at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan over the weekend, and lost on points – but did much better than observers thought against a more established team. But who are these women that can take a bruising, but keep on cruising?
“It helps to have practice at the end of the day after sitting all day in my day job,” said Park Slope resident Space Audity, her skating name in the league. She is a marketing manager during the day. The young woman says she has always been athletic and said it was good for women to get into the sport.
“I feel really proud of my team, we have a lot of good players this year,” Audity said after a bruising battle on the John Jay gym floor in a packed house. “It’s such an adrenalin rush and a natural high playing this sport. We all practice together so we smile at each other even though we bang into each other. We are all friends.”
The games are divided into two half-hour halves. The half-hours are broken into roughly two-minute sessions called jams, in which each team tries to score as many points as possible. Each team is simultaneously playing offense and defense, both speeding through laps while aggressively shoving opposing players aside to get ahead of the blockers to score points.
Five skaters from each team take to the track at once, and of those five one skaters, one is called the jammer and is able to score points and must get past the blockers. The blockers try to stop the other team’s jammers with their bodies, sometimes forming a chain, while helping their own jammer get through the other team’s blockers. Jammers must make a full lap before they’re able to score a point by surpassing the same player again so they must be fast and agile.
Sometimes skaters are knocked to the floor, made of special material that absorbs some of the impact. Skaters wear padding on knees and other parts of their body to protect them from serious injuries, but occasionally there are injuries. Emergency Medical Technician Mandy representing RCA ambulance, watched the teams go at it, and says she has rarely seen anything other than bumps, bruises, and an occasional sprained ankle.
She checked one young girl from the junior league who took a hard hit, but after a quick check, was ok to return to her team. “You don’t have to be big to play this game, some are very tiny girls,” Mandy said. “I’ve only splinted ankles, applied ice packs, and sometimes an Ibuprofen for pain. But these girls are already bruised up – they are very tough.”
One of those was Miss Tea Maven, real name Jennifer Dean of New Jersey, who is part of the Brooklyn team and a big scorer for the Bombshells. What comes with big scoring is bumps and bruises, and today, she had the wind knocked out of her, but kept on going after a few minutes break. Her day job is a director of audience development for Cheddar, an Altice company.
“Yes, it’s a hard-hitting sport and I got hit from behind and got the wind knocked out of me,” said Maven, her wavy blond hair whipping around her face as she flicked off the incident with a smile. “This game is a massive improvement – we are cleaner and working more like a team and I’m personally proud of us. We have six new girls this year – it’s difficult but there is time to get synergy and train.”
She added, “News in my business is intensive, but after work, I skate three hours, then eat and then go to sleep. You have to be a little crazy to do this sport, but being flexible and strong is important.”
While you don’t have to be big and tall to do the sport, you have to be tough – Bronx players chuckled a bit to see band-aides on the Brooklyn Brewery sponsored bottles on their ad. Brooklyn players said they can take it.
“I’ve played contact sports all of my life – I wrestled in high school, rugby in college and then started roller derby,” said Lady Fingers, a mechanical engineer of East Williamsburg. She’s shorter than most of the players, but she works out every day and is pure muscle on the course.
“We practice with each other nearly every day of the week and so, unlike hockey, there is never fisticuffs with friend,” Lady Fingers said after a tough game against the Bronx. “What I say to younger girls is they should do this. It is ok for young girls to be aggressive and play sports and be rough and get the benefits of being into sports. We do a lot of training – lift weights, keep in shape so we can take a hit. But anyone can do this – an engineer, a scientist, a nanny.”
Kid Vicious, a player in the Grand Central Terminators and a copywriter from Bushwick, worked the concessions to bring in funds for the league. “I started skating in Boulder, Colorado, on the County Farmers, and I was to get drafted first season with the Mayhem, then three seasons with the Wall Street Traitors now the Terminators,” said Kid Vicious who was a dancer in high school. “The sport is so super empowering and it brings together all kinds of athletes of all ages – our founder is 50.”
David Lukowski was rooting for the Brooklyn Bombshells with his wife and two daughters, 7 and 9, from East Flatbush, Brooklyn. “We just want to see a good jam, a good game and it was fantastic,” Lukowski said. “My girls are happier than any other thing they gotten into. The sport is great for young girls – it gives them a sense of community and they are so happy and I want them to do it as long as they want. They started skating a few months ago and they love it.”
For more information on the Brooklyn Bombshells, how to join or to see their schedule, go to their website. You can see them here in Brooklyn at the Abe Stark Skating rink in Coney Island on June 13, get tickets here.