Roller derby returned to Lexington in a big way Saturday night, with two teams of young women in wild, skimpy outfits zipping around a narrow track on roller skates, spreading mayhem, scoring points and entertaining fans.
Fortunately, none of the players had to be carted away in an ambulance, which, considering some of the action, was more than a little remarkable.
They don't call roller derby a contact sport for nothing.
This skating competition revolves — no pun intended — around a series of two-minute clashes called "jams." Designated scorers called "jammers" can earn points for their team in each jam by lapping members of the opposing team. To do so, they must get around "blockers" who can bump, thump and use almost anything this side of felonious assault to keep them from passing. At the same time, the blockers try to help their own jammers score.
It's not unusual for players to get knocked completely off the track, which is why seats on the floor at the outside edge of the track are called "suicide seats."
As we said, they're not kidding about this being a contact sport.
All that aside, the Rollergirls are not crazy or even out for blood. They're normal young women who have jobs, families and, in many cases, children. They just get a kick out of skating into people.
Take, for example, Richel "Ragdoll Ruby" Whitley of Lexington, who works in insurance when she isn't one of the Rollergirls of Central Kentucky. Whitley took up the sport six years ago.
"I knew how to roller skate, and I wanted to get into some kind of team sport," she said. "I told myself, 'OK, I can do this.' Of course, I didn't know what I was getting into."
Then there's Amanda DeBord, who is director of communications for the University of Kentucky College of Law and skates under the name Sugar Shock. (All the women have nicknames.)
"I saw an article about roller derby in the Kentucky Kernel and sent an e-mail saying I wanted to participate," DeBord explained. "I wanted to do something athletic, aggressive and a little different. I've always kind of liked weird stuff."
One of the newest Rollergirls is Lexington's Wendy Turner, a mother of two who teaches English and journalism at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. She joined the Rollergirls last fall after helping her husband, Frank Turner, recover from a traffic accident.
"He told me that I needed to get out of the house and do something for myself," she said.
Since then, Wendy Turner has been training hard to become certified to participate in roller derby bouts. She has to pass more than 40 tests, including skating 25 laps around a roller derby track in five minutes. She needs to cut 2 seconds off her time to qualify.
"It's so much fun. I really love it," Wendy Turner said. "It's very athletic, plus the sense of camaraderie and sisterhood from the other players is terrific.
"There's a lot more to it than getting to hit people," she said, "although that's fun, too."