This is my first feature in my portrait series 100 Years Strong. Commemorating the 100 year anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote, this series of portraits is a celebration of strength, victory and beauty featuring fierce, fearless women in Deep East Texas.
If there’s a sport that will challenge not only your expectations of your physical abilities, but what you want out of life, it’s roller derby.
For those unfamiliar with the sport, roller derby is one of the fastest growing sports in the world. It is a competitive contact sport of primarily women that pits two teams of no more than 15 players against each other. The two teams skate counter-clockwise around an oval track. Each team has 5 players on track at a time--4 blockers and 1 jammer. Game play or a “bout” consists of a series of short match-ups or “jams” in which both teams designate a jammer (identified by wearing a star on the helmet). The jammer scores points by lapping members of the opposing team as they try to block the jammer from passing them while simultaneously trying to help their own team’s jammer get around the track.
Remember this all happens on roller skates, so it is not for the faint of heart.
Headquartered in Lufkin, the East Texas Bombers Roller Derby League’s mission is to promote the athletic and competitive value of women’s roller derby through community service, good sportsmanship and dedication to women’s empowerment. They provide positive role models and seek to improve East Texas through the support of local nonprofits.
There is a popular misconception that derby girls are rough-and-tumble girls. While they are tough, they certainly do not go around beating people up. (Unless it’s on the track because you’re not as good as they are!) The East Texas Bombers is made up of professionals from diverse backgrounds all over East Texas, and they are often referred to as “the nicest ladies in derby.”
In fact, you may have a derby girl working in the cubicle next to you.
Meet Jessica, the current League President, Captain, and Junior Coach of the East Texas Bombers League. It may be hard for anyone meeting her for the first time to imagine this petite 40-year-old pushing her way through a wall of blockers and scoring some rink rash. She is a feisty four-foot 10-inch brunette ball of energy usually proudly sporting at least one bruise or two. With sparkling eyes the color of the ocean on a stormy day and a personality to match, she is a force to be reckoned with on the track. She doesn’t let her age hold her back and she has been plowing around the rink since the end of 2014.
Psyblocke is her alter-ego in the world of the roller derby, but it’s not just her name, it’s her superpower. When Psyblocke hangs up her skates for her day job, she becomes Jessica, a mental health manager at Burke where she has worked for the past 14 years.
Here’s what she had to tell me about what it’s like being a derby girl.
What league are you a member of? I’m a member of the East Texas Bombers Roller Derby League. In addition to playing on that team, I also have played for Brazos Valley Roller Derby, South Texas Derby Rebellion, Big D Rollergirls and finished the season with Gulf Coast Roller Girls in Louisiana.
What kind of training does it require to be in roller derby? First thing, you have to learn how to skate and fall properly. We fall all the time, so that’s one of the first things we learn to do. You don’t need any previous skating experience, and you don’t have to be athletic. There is no body type for this sport or experience level needed. You need to be willing to put in the time needed to get the skills necessary for play. You may not get a skill right away, but with practice and perseverance you can excel.
Your player name is Psyblocke - what's with the names? My name is based on the heroine Psylocke from X-Men. Elizabeth "Betsy" Braddock, aka Psylocke, and yeah, the movie made her into a villian. She occasionally walks a grey line stepping on the dark side, but mainly stays on the hero side. I loved the X-Men growing up, and I wanted a superhero style name. Psylocke was a name I could easily change into a roller derby-ish name. My number is from the Uncanny X-Men issue 213 is where Betsy Psylocke officially joined the X-men. What can I say? I really like superheroes!
Do you choose them yourselves or does the team give it to you? Names can be given to you or made up by you. Someone suggested I take “Flying Squirrel” as my name, and I just said no thanks. It’s a matter of what suits you and makes you happy. I’ve helped others come up with names like “Murderita.”
Do you have a pre-game ritual? I won’t eat three hours before a game. I listen to rock/metal music to get pumped, and do my bout makeup.
Do you have a favorite motivational quote? “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall” -Confucius
Do you have a theme song? Nah, usually the team as a whole chooses an entrance song for each game.
What is your position of choice? I play whatever is needed, but I find that I am the jammer more often than not.
How would you describe your derby playing style? I don’t know if I’d say I have a style. I just have fun.
Do you have a signature move? Running using my toe stops, it's a skill that came pretty naturally to me as I rarely wear flat shoes!
Are you worried about getting injured seriously? I’ve been injured, but not too seriously. It’s something that is in the back of your mind, but the more you worry about what can go wrong the more likely it is to happen.
Please share your best derby moment. I would have to say it was when I got my first MVP award! I worked hard that game and before to prep for the bout, but I was shocked to have gotten the award.
What has roller derby taught you about pushing your limits, either physically or mentally? You can do anything if you want to and the only person that stops you is yourself.
Have you held any leadership positions in your league? I have been Captain, Co-Captain, Jr coach, Sponsorship Committee Head, Membership Committee Head, Grievance Committee, League Secretary, and League President.
How have those positively impacted your personal roller derby career? Being in any leadership position is time consuming, but you understand that you are there for the betterment of the team. You don’t think about what is better for yourself; rather you base your decisions and how you handle issues that arise with the mindset of what is best for the team. You get up, you get out there, and you keep positive, even though you might be sick or in a mood. You know how moods are contagious, so you persevere smiling the whole time as that's what's best for the whole team. Usually if I wasn’t feeling well before I go to practice, my mood has improved by the time I leave.
What is your job outside of roller derby? I work in Mental Health Management.
How, if at all, has it contributed to your experience of roller derby? Working in mental health I am pretty accepting of any life choices an individual makes. My background helps me be tolerant and understanding as necessary for the betterment of the league. Roller derby is full of a lot of diverse individuals. I have found that most people join roller derby at a low spot in their life and are looking for acceptance, balance, health, or some kind of meaning. We are seeking something, and roller derby is like a family that is there to support you when you are feeling down or just need some positivity.
How do you find a balance between your derby life and “real” life? It’s difficult at times. With anything that’s worth doing or you enjoy, you just have to make the time.
How has your involvement in roller derby affected the way you live the rest of your life? Well I’ve never been overly timid, but it’s made me more social and open. This sport is about empowerment, acceptance, and can lead to lifetime friendships. I know there are people who have my back no matter the obstacle, and they know I’m there for them as well. I live in the moment and enjoy life despite the many challenges and obstacles that come my way. I don’t back down from things that people think I shouldn’t do, or from fear of getting hurt. Life is a challenge you can either let it run you or you can face it head on.
What advice do you have for people who want to play roller derby? Don’t be afraid to try. We fall down, but we get back up. Don’t give up. We can break through the walls, and overcome challenges we face. There is no body type or perfect image that is right for this sport. This sport is for everyone. It doesn’t matter how many times we fall, only that we get back up.
What do you have to say to women who may think they’re too old for roller derby? I’ve played with someone in their 60's before, so yeah, age doesn’t hold you back. Only you do.
How does roller derby help the community? Typically, we pick a benefactor to donate half of our proceeds (minus expenses) from bouts. Currently we help the VFW Post 1836 with practically all of their events.
How does someone go about joining a roller derby league? Most leagues are on social media outlets such as Facebook. You can search for roller derby in your area, and you can usually find a team to message about practice times. We offer 4 free practices, so people can check us out and see if they may be interested in joining. We have some loaner gear available, but you have to bring your own mouth guard. Our main team is women age 18+ and we have a junior co-ed team for ages 8-17 years old. We are also looking for people who would be interested in learning to be a referee.
Do you have any events in the future that interested people can attend? We are currently in a recruitment phase, so we don’t have any games scheduled. We practice every Monday and Thursday at VFW Post 1836, 1800 Ford Chapel Rd, Lufkin, TX 75901. We help with most of the public events hosted at the VFW. Follow us on Facebook to keep up with what’s happening.
You can learn about the rules of derby here: https://rules.wftda.com/02_gameplay.html
I am looking for more fierce, fearless women to participate in this portrait study. If you or someone you know would be interested please contact me. You can learn more about it here - https://www.rachelloutportraits.com/19thamendment