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John Lamb, Published November 07 2009

Knock 'n' roll stars: FM Derby Girls revved, ready for inaugural bout

When the Fargo Moorhead Derby Girls take the flat track tonight at the Fargo Civic Center, North Dakota becomes the final state to roll with the derby resurgence.

Over the past few years, all-female derby leagues have been popping up around the country, appealing to a mix of punk girls, soccer moms, jocks and women looking to make new friends and get in shape at the same time.

The trend caught the eye of actor/director Drew Barrymore, who spun her own derby drama onto the big screen this fall with “Whip It.”

Unlike early incarnations, the current derby bouts are real, not staged pro-wrestling-like melodrama.

The skaters are also trying to dispel other misperceptions, like that matches are sanctioned catfights. Likewise, they find themselves explaining that they own the not-for-profit league and are not being exploited by someone behind the scenes.

“If anyone tried to exploit us, he’d have hell to pay,” says Athena Funk, president of the FM Derby Girls.

Here’s a look at three of the aesthetics that make up a roller girl.


Body

“It’s amazing the amount of physical punishment you put up with,” says Lisa Anderson.

Known on the track as “Sgt. Largent,” she insists she’s “a pretty big pansy,” even if she proudly shows off the scar from her broken arm.

“Oh, we’re proud of them,” Anderson says, referring to the scars and bruises she acquired from practices.

“It’s a badge of honor,” she says, adding that her husband keeps a photo album of her bruises.

There are positive effects on the body as twice a week skaters lace up for two-hour practices and a solid workout.

“I would never spend two hours in a gym,” says Lenaya Kerlin, a psychology major who rolls under the name “Shock Therapy.”

At 5-foot-3, she is one of the smaller skaters.

“I’m learning to accept myself for the way I am,” she says. “I’ve never been so proud of my thighs.”


Attitude

“It’s more of a mindset that teaches you if you get knocked down, you think, ‘Nobody does this to me,’ ” says Anderson of the conditioning.

That mental toughness also comes through in their derby names.

Florist Donna Donley, adopted the name “Rosie Bruz-her” while president Funk became “Athena Barbital,” a name inspired by a barbiturate.

“Basically, it slows you down and knocks you out,” Funk, a six-year veteran of leagues in Arizona and Minneapolis/St. Paul, explains.

That individual toughness translates into team names. Fargo-Moorhead’s two groups are named Monkey Wenches and Fighting Suzies while one of the Winnipeg teams in town tonight for the bout is called the Murder City Maidens.


Appeal

With grass-roots organizing, a DIY appeal, and the physical assertiveness required, derby leagues tend to cross over into rock and punk aesthetics with teams instead of bands.

“I consider these girls my family. I spend more time with them than with my husband,” Anderson says.

Team members tapped into the pop culture interest and recruited skaters as theater-goers left “Whip It.”

Between matches tonight, exhibitions will be performed by the Saloon Girls, the This Snow and Skate Skateboard Team and the rock band Tune in Tokyo.

Even the sponsors fit the mold, like tattoo/branding/piercing parlor Dead Rock Stars and design firm Boneskot Design Co. Another sponsor, Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer, is the country’s biggest backer of the sport.

Funk, a graphic designer and tattoo artist-in-training designed the posters, T-shirts and rub-on tattoos for sale at tonight’s event.

All the skaters take on different tasks to make the organization roll.

“Every time a big group of girls gets together, people think they can’t play nice together,” Anderson says. “It’s really empowering. You really see this self-confidence rising.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533


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