Wednesday , April 23, 2014 - 2:52 PM
OGDEN — Jenae Miller remembers her introduction to roller derby. She was getting a tattoo at the time, and complaining about her co-workers.
“I’d had kind of a bad day and was bitching about something at work,” the North Ogden woman recalls of that day four years ago. “The tattoo artist’s girlfriend looked at me and said, ‘You’ve got anger issues. You should come to roller derby.’ ”
She was invited to attend a roller derby event and meet “The Girls,” and was instantly hooked.
“My very first credit-card purchase was buying all this roller derby gear,” she said. “They call it the ‘Fresh Meat Package’ (new recruits are lovingly referred to as “fresh meat”), and it’s about $200, which includes skates, wheels, helmet and protective pads.”
Miller says she’s played sports her entire life — tennis, soccer, track and field — but had to dial it back when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer her freshman year of high school.
But then, “Roller derby came around and I was like, ‘Hell, yeah!’ ” says the 22-year-old woman who now goes by the skater moniker “Mayhem Miller.”
Talk to nearly any member of the Ogden-based Junction City Roller Dolls; her introduction to the sport will have a similarly interesting, colorful backstory.
For 27-year-old Josyln Oakes, aka “Cherry Von Sin,” her introduction to roller derby involved alcohol. And a bar bet. A friend who was a referee with the Roller Dolls first told her about the pastime.
“It was basically a drunken bet that I couldn’t do it,” Oakes said with a laugh.
Contrary to popular belief, roller derby is not like professional wrestling. None of it is faked, according to Oakes.
“It’s like football on wheels, you’re getting hit all the time,” she says.
The Kaysville woman remembers regularly roller skating as a child.
“I had ‘My Little Pony’ skates,” Oakes said. “I’d just be rolling down the street, scraping up my knees.”
Oakes says she was first drawn to the physical, athletic part of derby. Since then, it has become so much more to her.
“I gained friends through roller derby, and then it moved on to gaining family,” she said of the tight-knit group. “It’s a second home for a lot of us.”
That sense of family is a common thread among roller derby enthusiasts in the state. Admittedly — given the abundance of tattoos, piercings and, yes, attitude — it’s a family that is more Osbournes than Osmonds. Still, those connections run deep.
For the Dolls of Junction City, roller derby also offers a feeling of belonging to something bigger than themselves. And it’s something that’s about to get a lot bigger.
The Junction City Roller Dolls, who got their start in 2008, are sensing that 2014 is their year. All the hard work, the practice, the long road trips of the last decade — it’s all about to pay off.
By last season, the Junction City Roller Dolls had developed a reputation around the West for being giant killers.
“We jumped in ranking significantly last year,” Miller said. “Teams that outranked us, we beat them — badly. A lot of people started referring to us as ‘Upset City,’ instead of ‘Junction City.’ ”
As a result, this year the group is on the brink of becoming a Division 2 team. Division 2, baby. That’s the second-highest group in derby. Such a designation (they’re currently Division 3) would place JCRD in the Top 100 teams of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, and allow them to compete in a much higher caliber of tournaments.
“We’re dangerously close,” Miller said of earning that Division 2 ranking.
Jen Fahrney, of Layton, is the team’s coach. The 41-year-old, who also goes by “Pain n Sufferin’,” says her job is to “offer words of advice and encouragement” to the team. It’s her second year as coach, and she likes the team’s chances.
“They’re playing really well together this season,” Fahrney said. “At Seattle, we beat a team that beat us last year — by a lot. Everybody’s game is tighter now.”
Jen Philion, 42, of Ogden, is known in derby circles as “Lady Shatterly.” She, too, likes her team’s chances.
“These’ll be some of the best teams we’ve played,” she said. “But also, this is the strongest team we’ve ever had.”
JCRD currently has about 35 active members on the team; organizers hope to eventually build up to 50 skaters.
The Dolls are inviting all to be witness to their potentially historic 2014 season, by attending Saturday night’s home opener at the Weber County Fairgrounds.
The event, a carnival-themed doubleheader, begins with the Junction City Roller Dolls’ Trainwrecks battling the Jackson Hole Juggernauts, from Wyoming, in a first-time meeting between the two. That match will be followed by JCRD’s LOCO-Motives facing off against the Gallatin Roller Girlz from Montana.
Doors open at 5 p.m. in the Golden Spike Event Center Exhibit Hall, with the first bout beginning at 6 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door. A discount is offered for members of the military and Weber State University students. Age 12 and younger are admitted free. Visit jcrdolls.com for more information on Saturday’s match.
Tale of two teams
The JCRD season runs March to September, according to Deanna Bojanower, aka “Dee Wrex,” who is the team’s PR and marketing chairwoman. They’ve already participated in two away bouts this year — one in Bremerton, Wash., and one in Boise, Idaho. The team has scheduled seven home matches this year.
The Junction City Roller Dolls has two teams — the “A” team, or traveling squad, called the Trainwrecks; and the “B” team, known as the LOCO-Motives. In general, new players start out as members of the LOCO-Motives; once they exhibit the proven skills, they can move up to the Trainwrecks.
“Mayhem” Miller is lending her experience as captain of the B team this year.
“The LOCO-Motives team is full of girls who can’t commit to the travel, or who don’t yet have the skill level, of the Trainwrecks,” she said.
This year’s B team has a brand new roster full of “fresh meat” — about 14 women — and Saturday’s bout will be their first ever, according to Miller. She calls it “a good little team,” and says she can sense that her team members “are in it for the fun.”
While she enjoys the competitiveness of the Trainwrecks, Miller also loves the more laid-back attitude of the LOCO-Motives.
“The Trainwrecks, for me, with that competitive edge, it can cause more nerves,” Miller said. “There are a lot of sleepless nights on travel tournaments. You get ‘derby brain,’ where that’s all you can think about — and that takes a little of the fun out of it. But it’s more social on the B team.”
Making the team
The squad practices on Mondays and Wednesdays — Wednesday’s practice usually involves a scrimmage, according to Bojanower. One spectator at a recent practice was Jennifer Wilcock, a 24-year-old from Layton, who’s been considering joining the team.
“It’s something I’ve wanted to do since high school,” she said. “And now I’m in a place, financially, where I can afford it.”
Being a derby girl isn’t cheap. The initial cost for equipment is a couple hundred dollars, then it’s a $60 annual fee and $30 a month. Plus, there are travel expenses if you make the Trainwrecks, although those costs can be mitigated by sponsors and fundraisers.
But Wilcock says she’s already “pretty much made up my mind to join the team.” She’s skated recreationally in the past, and did some ice skating.
“I’m hoping those skills will transfer,” she said.
Wilcock, who’s toying with the track name “Luster Dust” (“It’s the sparkly stuff they put on candies to make them glittery,” she says. “I like shiny things.”), doesn’t seem to fit the typical mold of a roller derby girl — tattoos, body piercings, the occasional outburst of language that could peel the varnish off a rink floor. Wilcock is engaged to be married Aug. 8 in the Salt Lake LDS Temple.
“He supports it,” she says of her fiance. “He says if I want to do it, he’s fine with it.”
And Wilcock believes she’ll get along well with her future teammates. After all, she grew up playing soccer, and guess what was her favorite part of the sport.
“It was the physical contact,” she says, grinning.
At that same recent practice, Trishell Bates, a 28-year-old woman from Clinton who goes by the nickname “Bomb Shella,” was just finishing up the rookie “fresh meat” program. She has one final skating skill to pass off in order to be able to compete for the LOCO-Motives — 27 laps in five minutes.
“Last time I tried, I was four seconds over,” she says.
Bates is totally smitten with the sport.
“Ever since I found out it was a thing, I’ve wanted to do it,” she said. “These girls are easy to idolize — they’re confident, strong women.”
What Jenae “Mayhem” Miller likes most is the fact roller derby combines so many aspects — athleticism, showmanship, camaraderie — in one sport.
“And,” she adds with a smile, “you get to hit people.”
Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SEMarkSaal.
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