By day, Ashley Lawrence works at the University of Illinois. In her spare time, though, she is Sasha Smashmouth, a roller skater for the Twin City Derby Girls.
The Twin City Derby Girls have their season-opening bout this Sunday at Savoy’s Skateland. Here, they will take on Decatur’s Prairieland Punishers. Lawrence expects it to be a great match up.
Roller derby, with its roots lying in the 1920s, has gotten increasingly popular over the past ten years, hitting a revival in 2006. Now, it’s more popular than ever, with leagues sprouting over North American, Australia, and Europe.
Punchwrap Supreme, Sasha Smashmouth, and Kimbuktu (L to R, in green)
Lawrence began derbying in 2010, almost when the Twin City Derby Girls first started. She was looking for a women’s sport and came to tryouts with a friend. Having always been athletic, she found starting off to be pretty easy, relating many of the techniques to women’s hockey.
Many people may think of roller derby as a show. Women have nicknames and sometimes dress up in fishnet tights and miniskirts. However, that is not necessarily always the case.
“Roller derby is more of a sport than a spectacle,” Lawrence says, mentioning that, unlike some wrestling, everything the audience sees is real. And because of this, some clothing is an outward expression of the fierceness these women must have in order to play, while other skaters embrace a uniform of athletic pants or shorts and jersey tops.
“You have to be strong,” she says.
Roller derby allows for women of various shapes and sizes to succeed. Anyone 21 and up can play. Lawrence has played with women from 21 to 50. A requirement, like many sports, is dedication. The Twin City Travelers (A and B teams) all bought gym memberships together to train off-skates as a team. It’s more than just skating a few times a week — these women must be strong.
And of course, there are derby names. A name gives a player an opportunity to “tap into her aggressive side”. Lawrence wanted something that sounded similarly to her real name, but wasn’t. She wanted something that symbolized contact and power, mentioning that derby was kind of like “football on skates”.
“Many of the women in our league are new to contact and team sports. They were never encouraged to be physical and aggressive. When they realize it’s a good thing, in roller derby, they channel their inner aggression through their derby name,” Lawrence said. As many derby women work day jobs or are mothers (or both!), derby names allow a woman to “switch over”. She continued:
As far as the bouts go, each team has up to five players skating at a time. The jammer, the player with a star on her helmet, is the one trying to score the points. She must make it past the blockers and around the track. There are four blockers, with one block being a pivot, wearing a stripe on her helmet.
The Twin City Travelers are climbing in rank within Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA). They currently moved from a Division III league to Division II, meaning they are playing at a more competitive level, nationally. They’re hoping for a great season ending with Division II playoffs in September, which would take them to either Minnesota, or Ontario, Canada.
The season opener starts Sunday at 7 p.m., with doors opening at 6 p.m. Skateland in Savoy is just off Curtis Road. Tickets are $8, and kids under 8 get in for free. The girls have worked hard to make sure this is a family-friendly environment, and something anyone of all ages can enjoy.
Top photo by Tom Schaefges, second photo by Alexander Wild.