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Derby Dames get rolling
July 01, 2016 Frank Marquez   

Read more by Frank Marquez

Frank Marquez/Gering Citizen Jessica Bolton (left) leads the Dirtroad Derby Dames through practice at Brannan Bounce and Skate World in Gering on Monday. From left to right, Janica Mehling, Anna Escamilla, and Brooke Kusek Odean follow. Odean, a member of the Heartland Hellcats in North Platte gives the team tips on training.

Jessica Bolton, 26, a.k.a. Donna Wheel-Ya- Face (DW for short), the Director and Head Coach of the upstart Dirtroad Derby Dames, a roller derby team trying to find local roots, stood next to a folding table stacked with applications and binders keeping her skating world straight while she greeted ladies coming through the door for practice at Brannan Bounce and Skate World on Gering’s east side Monday night.

Bolton discovered roller derby in Eureka, California, through an outreach program called the Raven Project. “It was love at first sight,” she said. Her passion feeds why she wanted to bring the sport to Gering, and her active search for recruits, or “fresh meat,” a popular skate reference for newbies.

According to Bolton, after reaching national notoriety in the ‘70s and ‘80s, roller derby in its theatrical phase faded, but started making a comeback, first in Texas in 2001. It didn’t take long to arrive in Nebraska. Now, there are teams in Omaha, Lincoln, near Kearney and North Platte, all which have formed within the past decade.

Bolton learned from professionals who were part of the Humboldt Rollers in northern California. She bought and read the rulebook called “Roller Derby 101,” penned by Punchy O’Guts. In 2013, she started putting the word out about forming a team in Gering.

“It’s a great outlet, you can deal with frustrations,” Bolton said, letting loose her spunky infectious laughter. “It’s brought some shy girls out of their shell; getting them involved gives them empowerment. I love skating, getting full contact, but doing it the right way in the right place.”

The team’s name and colors were voted on by the members, thus they don purple, black, and teal jerseys. Their comic individual nicknames like Bolton’s derive from special skills and strengths, with the intent to intimidate opposing skaters, perhaps with a grin or chuckle.

There were 35 ladies at the first meeting in 2013. Bolton believes there will be more ladies joining when the Dames are more established. “The derby community is awesome,” Bolton said. “Many of them have said ‘We will help you in any way we can.’ ”

The team’s been getting training tips from members of the Heartland Hellcats based in North Platte. Now, the Dames have a core of 13 members not including Bolton.

The group is still in basic training. At Monday’s practice, they circled the track and weaved through small orange cones. To become a full-fledged registered bout team, the Dames must first pass a rules test, and a mini skills test, which includes skating 27 laps in five minutes.

“The rule book is this thick,” Bolton said, stretching her index finger and thumb. Despite lacking an official roller derby stamp, the team can still get a taste of real competition in five-on-five scrimmages. To further educate themselves on the sport, and as the team grows, a few of the Dames travelled to Greeley, Colorado, over the weekend to watch a bout.

“Right now, were also getting our girls fully geared,” Bolton said. Because roller derby is a full-contact sport, rules require protective equipment including a helmet, elbow and knee pads and a pair of good skates.

There’s something remarkably unique about roller derby, where in other sports, opposing teams rarely see each other socially after games. In roller derby, they do, for gatherings at after-parties. They invite fans and sponsors, too. The Dames have two, Sunny Freckles Photography, and Mary – Little Thunder Creations photography. Getting backing from local business improves their standing, which also helps them to focus on community issues and supporting causes.

In their short existence so far, the roller girls have helped to raise money to defray travel costs for a girl who suffers from leukemia. She is being medically treated outside Nebraska. The Dames also held a fundraiser for the family of Daxton Valladares, who passed away shortly after being prematurely born, a cause which tugged at the heart strings of many of the ladies who are mothers themselves.

And as one of their main goals, the Dames also want to revive the Brannan’s rink, and rebuild the floor.

“We are not rebel girls,” Bolton said. “We are moms, doctors, nurses, and teachers who like to let their alter ego out.”

A perfect example, Janica Mehling, 32, a stay-at-home mom with her children Hylas, 5, and Albert, 2, said she rollerbladed when she was little, probably at about 12. “It was for a few years,” she said. “It was how I got from Point A to Point B.”

The petite pixie-like Mehling skated with the team about three months ago for the first time, but actually met the Dames a year ago last summer at a community garage sale in the Monument Mall parking lot. “I was like, I’m doing that,” she said. “It was rocky at first. Each time, I was a little nervous, but I bought padded elbow pads and wrist guards.”

Since then, Mehling’s learned to find balance and make contact. “We also work on crossovers, skating backward, and building up strength with skills like skating on one foot, and with one leg out,” she said.

“It’s cool to make friendships that I didn’t have before. It’s nice to have me-time, instead of mom-time. Plus, it’s exercise. It’s weird to say a sport is relaxing, but it is.”

Another of the Derby Dames is a grandmother. Sharon Harsin, 45, who lives north of Bayard committed to the sport about two years ago, when she saw a Facebook post about the team. “I love roller skating, but stopped doing it for about 15 years ago because of kids and a full-time job,” she said.

Now, after recently leaving her job at Wal-Mart, she’s become a stay-at-home grandma, with the six grandchildren from her three children.

Her oldest daughter Regina also skates.

“So, I’m starting all over again,” she said.

Taking a trooper mentality, Harsin has taken her lumps, but keeps getting back up. After falling three times at practice, injuring her hamstring, knee, and the last time her shoulder, she said, “I want to conquer my fear of falling. Each time, I get better. I’ve been working on balance, and core strength, and so far, I have lost 10 pounds.”

Harsin encourages ladies who might be on the fence about coming out. “They don’t have to commit, just try it. Most of them find they love it, and want to be here all the time, but you have to learn how to fall properly,” she said.

Remembering the past and her passion for skating, Harsin said, “It was more fun than walking everywhere. You’re in control. You’re making the breeze. I loved skating to music when I was younger, making it fun. I hope we can bring that back with roller derby; get some bouts going, and some people cheering in the stands.”

To participate, team members must be at least 19, and pay $10 in monthly dues. The team also offers babysitting at practice for # per child for two hours.

For more information on how to join, visit online at dirtroadderbydames.com and follow the contact link to send a message.
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