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Jenny McGuigan stretches before a practice Tuesday night.
Valerie Reynolds (left), Kelly Ferguson and Teresa Padgett practice at the National Guard Armory for an upcoming roller derby bout.
From students to scientists, The Five 40 Roller Girls gives these women a place to lay it all out.
Teresa 'Dee Dee Dynamite' Padgett shows off her tattoo and floor burn after a fall during practice with the Five 40 Roller Girls.
BY JONAS BEALS
They are powerful women with colorful names like Dee Dee Dynamite, Bomb Gnarley, Beaver Receiver, Ord Nancy, Thin Mint, Bettie Bareknuckles and Monster. They are also teachers, stay-at-home moms, scientists, artists and Marines. When they lace up the skates, they are the Five 40 Roller Girls, Fredericksburg's flat-track roller derby team. And they like to hit people.
There aren't many women's sports that encourage contact, but roller derby requires it. It's not a free-for-all, but there are plenty of hip checks, body checks, scrums and people hitting the floor.
Even practice bouts can be rough. Earlier this week at the Fredericksburg Armory, Teresa Padgett was forced off the track at the end of the gym and her shoulder scraped across a hinge protruding from the garage door. She got up and kept flying around the track, but when the water break came, she rolled up her sleeve to inspect the damage. There were two fresh red gashes above her rat tattoo.
"Isn't that awesome?" she asked her teammates. They agreed it was.
Roller derby is growing in popularity throughout the country, but the sport is still trying to overcome the clownish spectacle that made for odd TV fodder 40 years ago.
"We're emphasizing athleticism, not so much showmanship," said Five 40 Roller Girls coach Tim Loomis. "People think it's 1970s. It's not that at all."
It only takes a few minutes to see that roller derby is a physically taxing sport complete with rules, scoring and strategy. But that's just the bones of it--the spirit of the game comes from the women who don't just play it, but preach it.
"It becomes a huge part of your life," said Destinee Winslow. (That's her real name. We can't print her derby name.) "It's truly a passion. It's being and feeling empowered. In a way, you feel invincible."
Winslow, 25, couldn't skate when she started roller derby two years ago. She couldn't skate earlier this week, either. She is pregnant, so she's staying off the track, but she's helping to coach the team in the meantime.
Roller derby is a competitive outlet for Winslow, a former gymnast and cheerleader. But she said it's a more mature competitiveness than what she was accustomed to as a teenager.
"We're adults now," she said. "You can appreciate what everyone brings to the table."
So consider the allure to be a sort of mature, sophisticated violence. For some women, it's an outlet they might have wanted, but never imagined they would have.
Amber Fua, a 21-year-old University of Mary Washington student, hopes to go by "Amberantula" when she gets on the team. She's only been skating for about a month, but will take part in the Five 40 Roller Girls' "Fresh Meat" clinic for rookies that starts Nov. 20. The program will prepare her for the skills test, which the Women's Flat Track Derby Association requires all skaters to pass before they can compete.
Before she's even an official member of the team, Fua knows she's in the right place.
"I'm excited to hit girls," she said.
But she's found the team to be more than a punching-bag workout. She said she was surprised at how friendly and supportive all of the Five 40 Roller Girls are.
"I don't have any chick friends," she said. "I think it's because I'm a little too aggressive. I have a lot of aggression, and this is really the place for it."
She's among like-minded women. Gena Womack is a sixth-grade English teacher at Rodney Thompson Middle School in Stafford County. She, like Fua, is a rookie gearing up for the "Fresh Meat" clinic. Even as a novice, she said she loves everything about roller derby.
"It makes you take risks," she said. "It's good to get that adrenaline feeling. It's good for you."
Womack thinks that experience is important enough to some women that roller derby is destined to grow in size and popularity. Indeed, for some of these women, roller derby seems like a necessity--not just exercise or a stress reliever or an opportunity to don a wild persona--but something vital to their very existence.
Or maybe it's a lot simpler than that.
"I get to hit people," said Valerie Reynolds, a stay-at-home mother. "I like hitting people. Especially after a hard day with the kids."
Jonas Beals: 540/368-5036