An article about roller derby? For women? In a nice magazine like this?
But keep an open mind because there is far more to this sport that just smashing and bashing, though there is enough of that rough-and-tumble physicality to leave most of us grabbing for the ibuprofen.
Donna Seiter-Hollingsworth has been on skates for 24 years. But she knew nothing about the Cincinnati Rollergirls until a friend took her to the Cincinnati Gardens nearly three years ago.
"I emailed for a tryout the very next day," says Seiter-Hollingsworth, a valet at the Horseshoe Casino who is known in skating circles as Hot Slice.
Same with Lauren Bishop (Miss Print), a former reporter for the Enquirer and now the manager of digital engagement at Cincinnati Museum Center. When she happened across roller derby on a cable TV show in 2006, she just had to become part of it. She would go on to be a founding member and a team owner. Erica Nyberg (Wheezy), until recently the Cincinnati Ballet's graphic designer, spent her youth involved with community and high school theater. But when she discovered roller derby as an adult, she knew she had found her niche.
There is no clear stereotype when it comes to roller derby. Perhaps that's why when most people write about rollergirls they focus on what, to outsiders, is the game's greatest "gee whiz" factor "” women who, by day, are accountants, homemakers, physicians, etc., then strap on skates and turn into hard-pounding banshees.
That is intriguing, of course. But it's too obvious. And it's not really what makes roller derby tick.
Roller derby is rough, hard-hitting, aggressive and incredibly fast. Those aren't adjectives we usually apply to women's activities. And that's precisely some of why these players like it so much.
When the Rollergirls made their debut in 2006, the matches were more spectacle than sport. There was arm-wrestling at halftime. And for many of the participants, roller derby was more a statement than an athletic undertaking. That has changed.
"Some people make the team and then a month later they say I can't do it," says Bishop. Too much time. Too much money "” players are responsible for their own gear. Too hard on the body. "That happens every year. There's no way to tell that in advance. But you have to give people a chance."
Remember that phrase "” "give people a chance." It's central to Cincinnati Rollergirls' success.
The team was "” and still is "” a wonderfully diverse gaggle of humanity. Punk girls, professionals, rink rats, athletes. Small wonder that the sport is rapidly growing in popularity all over the world.
It's hard to know exactly how many teams there are today. It's played in dozens of countries, from Australia to Finland, from Mexico to Wales. But the greatest concentration is here in the United States where, depending on whose count you trust, there are between 500 and 800 teams.
Most, like the Rollergirls, are women's teams. But there are junior and co-ed teams and a growing number of men's teams. Besides the Rollergirls, the area is home to the Cincinnati Battering Rams (men) and Florence's Black-n-Bluegrass Roller Girls.
Derby "” especially the women's brand "” remains something of an anomaly in the sporting world. Not because it's regarded as an extreme sport, though. ESPN regularly features women in things like motocross and various snowboard events. The reason is roller derby has been branded as an activity for society's outsiders.
In an odd way, it's that very attitude that has led to its resurgence. The Rollergirls, like nearly all of the other teams affiliated with the Women's Flat Track Derby Association, is a grassroots organization, skater-owned and relying on thousands of volunteer hours to support the work of it unpaid skaters.
Money is not at the heart of what they do. "I had never been on a team of any kind," says Seiter-Hollingsworth, who is 35 and the mother of a 5-year-old daughter.
"It was unnerving, because I didn't know anything about the game," she recalls of her tryout. "But it felt good because I was confident on skates."
That's another one of those words that keep coming up "” "confidence." In an odd way, when rollergirls talk of their sport, it's reminiscent of women speaking of the benefits of an all-girls school. This is their game. Their place. They run it. They own it. They define everything about it.
Nyberg had never been on a team before, either. She was a daredevil, though, adoring the physical demands of snowboarding and gymnastics "” even a little recreational pole dancing.
"I had no idea how physical it would turn out to be," says Nyberg, 28. She showed up for the tryout with her dad's bike helmet and some pads she had worn as a kid. She soon learned that would not be enough for a sport that sees more than its share of injured knees and broken limbs. (The team does carry insurance for its players for such catastrophic injuries.)
"What I love about this is that it's such a challenge," says Nyberg. "This is not something that everyone can do. I think that's why you develop these incredible bonds with the people on your derby team. If I had an emergency "” any kind of emergency "” there's not a single girl on this team who wouldn't drop everything to help. I've never experienced anything like that before."
We all need to belong somewhere. Not everyone is fortunate enough to find that right place. But for these women, this is where they belong, where they need to be. To some people, Cincinnati Rollergirls might still look like a group of outsiders. But for others, this is an organization where the door is wide open.
"If I had known that Cincinnati had a team like this when they first started (in 2006), I'm sure my life would have taken a different direction than it did," says Seiter-Hollingsworth. "Coming into derby, even as an adult, has given me a sense of empowerment and strength that I never had before. I can do this. If I can do roller derby, I can do anything."