by Lori Slager Wenzel
Roller Derby isn’t a game people are often familiar with, but Grand Rapids breaks this typicality by offering the thrilling and unique opportunity to women in our city. Women seeking adventure, meet Grand Raggity Roller Derby (GRRD).
“It’s not a typical sport, so you don’t ever have to feel intimidated about playing because just about everybody that joins doesn’t know anything about it,” said Jenn Lynch, aka Lucy Morals, the current All Star Team Captain, part owner, and CEO of the league, and current skater for GRRD.
It’s a full contact sport. The goal is to skate around a circular ring and score points by passing your opponent skaters. Each skater takes on a clever alias to develop her individual track personas. Often the names are comical puns related to their lives outside of the ring, like Shear Rage, Peach Cobbler, and Bette Mangler.
GRRD started in April, 2005 by athletes Shutter Speed, and her roommate, The Vindicator. The inaugural game was one year later, on April 1, 2006, at the Delta Plex pulling in an incredible 2,000 spectators. Now, GRRD typically competes against teams in the Midwest; however, Michigan has several roller derby teams, and new leagues are sprouting up in cities frequently. GRRD’s home games are held Rivertown Sports, and away games are spotted across the Midwest. Formerly the Grand Raggidy Roller Girls, they recently changed their name, logo, and website in time for their ten-year anniversary. Lynch explained that their new focus is on promoting the sport of roller derby (not just women’s roller derby) in Grand Rapids.
From those who don’t know how to skate to lifelong ice skaters and speed skaters, GRRD has welcomed women from all backgrounds. “We have grandmas on the team, we have moms, at one point we had a mom and a daughter,” said Lynch. Although it’s a full contact sport, there’s no need to worry about injuries. “We teach you to fall and teach you to skate,” said Lynch. “We don’t just throw you out there!” Similar to hockey, players are not permitted to clothesline, but body checks are legal. Marie Bolen, aka Sugarpants, isn’t afraid to admit that’s the part she enjoys most. “I love the physical challenge and doing things I didn’t think I would ever be capable [of doing],” she said. “I like hitting people, too!”
Although becoming physically fit is a definite perk of joining the team, members also appreciate the sense of empowerment that skating for GRRD offers. Each woman has their own unique story. For example, Richell Moore-Kline, aka Tac, said “looking back at all the things I’ve accomplished as a skater, GRRD has made me believe I can do anything if I want it bad enough and I work hard enough. Things I looked at before as scary or adventurous is another challenge for me to conquer.” Another participant, Diane Devereaux, aka Snake Spit, felt that following her divorce, she needed to feel like she was part of a team again. “[Derby showed me] that no matter what life throws at me, I can take it out on the track and feel whole again. It taught me to trust again.”
Cohesion and support outline the organization. Beth Pierson, aka Lil Haha and GRRD’s head coach said a strong sense of community is a major benefit of GRRD. “I love seeing this diverse group of women all coming together with a common interest/goal and making it work,” she said. “There’s a rawness in this group of people that I haven’t found very often in other areas of my life and I crave that.”
Members often find that their GRRD experiences cause them to be more engaged and dedicated to the team than they may have originally anticipated. Pierson explains how she became involved, telling those interested in joining to “keep an open mind and the adventure will come to you.”
“I did not seek out roller derby, I couldn’t skate, I only went to support a friend who had joined,” said Pierson. “I’ve been hooked on it for 10 years and it has definitely been an adventure!”
Many of the team members find the experience to be a relief to everyday roles. Despite having a career and family, women enjoy having a hobby to pursue and excel in; it’s a realm that is personally theirs where relationships are built and friendships explode. It’s exciting, it’s engaging, and it’s a new identity. “[My reason for staying involved] regularly evolves, but it basically boils down to having a purpose other than being someone’s wife or mother,” said Bolen.
Bolen also explains how GRRD skaters are no strangers to risk taking. “Joining GRRD was one of the biggest risks I’ve taken because it is so out of my comfort zone. I would never hesitate to try something once, but the league continually reminds me that one person’s comfort zone is another person’s adventure.”
GRRD is currently seeking more members and volunteers. Those interested must be 18 years old, and men are welcome to join as refs. Other opportunities include sponsorships by local businesses to help cover travel costs and rink rentals. More information including current players, ticket information, and schedules can be found on their new website, www.grandraggidy.com.