Face of Defense: Guard Members Skate in Roller Derby
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Darren D. Heusel
Special to American Forces Press Service
OKLAHOMA CITY, March 10, 2010 Some soldiers will do almost anything to stay in shape.
Left to right, roller derby teammates Army Sgt. Karli Wahkahquah, Army 1st Lt. Kristin Sloan and Army 1st Lt. Jessica duMonceaux, all members of the Oklahoma Army National Guard, proudly show off their dainty, powder blue Thunderbirds -- symbolic of the parent 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team under which they serve. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Darren D. Heusel
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Three soldiers from the Oklahoma Army National Guard are lacing up their roller skates, strapping on elbow and knee pads and taking to the rink as members of the Oklahoma City Red Dirt Rebellion Rollergirls.
For those new to the sport, this isn’t the roller derby of the 1970s, when practically every move was choreographed as in professional wrestling.
No, this is the real deal -- as evidenced by the bruised and battered bodies of 1st Lt. Jessica duMonceau, 1st Lt. Kristin Sloan and Sgt. Karli Wahkahquah.
All are members of the military intelligence community and became interested in roller derby after attending an evening contest between the Oklahoma City Red Dirt Rebellion and a team from Amarillo.
"We all went to our first bout together, and Kristin and I looked at Karli and said, 'We have to do this!'" said duMonceau, who attended high school in Foley, Minn., before moving to Oklahoma City six years ago. "We can be pretty persuasive like that sometimes."
Wahkahquah said it has been at least 10 years since she donned a pair of roller skates, but she was up to the challenge.
"I'm sure I must have looked like a baby giraffe on skates out there at first," said Wahkahquah, who also hails from Oklahoma City. "There were a lot of bumps and bruises initially, but it’s proven to be a lot of fun."
Sloan, a native of Mustang, Okla., said one of the clinchers for her was when "Energizer Honey," a member of the Red Dirt Rebellion, was sent flying over the railing, landed on her feet and got right back into the action without ever batting an eyelash.
"She jumped right up like she knew what she was doing," Sloan recalled. "The crowd went wild, and we knew right then this was the sport for us."
Founded in July 2007 by a group of women with previous flat-track experience, the Red Dirt Rebellion Rollergirls are members of Oklahoma's only all-female banked-track roller derby league.
While flat-track roller derby has taken the nation by storm in recent years, the Red Dirt Rebellion is one of only 11 elite banked-track roller derby teams in the country.
In its heyday, roller derby was one of the most popular sports broadcast on TV. The late 1970s brought viewers professional wrestling-style derby with mixed teams, heated fist fights and dramatic moves.
Then, as if overnight, roller derby disappeared from public view, only to re-emerge 20 years later with a totally revamped attitude. You won't often see men on the derby track any more, unless they're sporting a black-and-white striped jersey and a whistle.
You also won't see any overly dramatic "scripted” behavior on the rink. What you will see are short skirts, fishnet stockings, tattoos and smash-mouth roller derby action.
All the hits, spills, falls and breaks are real, and they’re revered in the roller derby community.
Named after the infamous "red dirt" of Oklahoma and their wild "rebellious" spirits, members of the Red Dirt Rebellion Rollergirls come from all different lifestyles and backgrounds, from graphic designers and nurses, to stay-at-home moms and soldiers.
The ladies get together at least three nights a week, and for a few bone-crushing hours, they fly around the track hurling themselves at each other as they participate in their own version of ultimate fighting.
They like to have fun, and they like to play rough, as their motto, "Skate Fast and Kick Butt," states. Once the ladies step onto the rink, they immediately transform into their "alter egos."
Wahkahquah, or "Rolling Death," as she is known by her Red Dirt Rebellion sisters, bulldozes her way through a crowded pack of five girls as she makes her way for the "jammer."
Sloan, or "Bruise Clues" as she is known in roller derby circles, finds the gap through the pack and darts in and out as she bursts her way through, dodging opposing "blockers" as they lunge at her.
The jammers, duMonceau or "La Fleur de Mort" among them, claw their way through what seems like a school of piranhas, while the blockers seek to catch an opposing skater off guard and send her skidding across the floor.
Belly flops, bruised jaws, bloody noses and twisted ankles come with the territory. But these ladies say, "Bring it on!"
After an intense bout, the skaters may seek treatment for their wounds. But, you won't see a single unhappy skater in the bunch. They'll limp out with a grin on their face and glints of roller derby glory in their eyes, eager to live on and to fight another day.
"There are definitely some dedicated people on our team," duMonceaux said.
What makes the trio so successful on the banked track is the same tenacious attitude and "can-do" spirit that helps them thrive and survive in the Guard.
"For me, the organization and the planning are huge," said Sloan. "There was no real structure when we first got started. We used troop-leading procedures to make it go a lot smoother."
Wahkahquah said she noticed the team's method of notifying people about an upcoming practice or bout was broken when she first was involved. One person was contacting everyone on the team, and it was taking hours to get people notified. So she instituted a procedure similar to a military recall roster to help speed up the process.
"Now, all is well," she said. "Roller derby has definitely taught me to be a better leader. When we first got here, it was like herding cats. Now, it's like herding sheep. It's a lot more organized."
"I'm definitely developing my communication skills," duMonceau said. "I'm very direct these days and that helps transition over to the Guard."
The women all claim to have been standout athletes in high school. All said roller derby has helped them elevate their physical fitness.
"We're guaranteed at least three practices per week, even more than that, if we have a ‘bout’ coming up," Wahkahquah said.
Sloan said their experience has helped with recruiting as well.
Sporting a baby blue Thunderbird on their right shoulder that’s symbolic of the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team with which they serve, Sloan said some of the other women will come up to them and ask about the National Guard.
Choosing the perfect roller derby nickname is important, the women said, because it becomes registered and is theirs forever. "Someone can call and ask to create a version of your name, but they have to get your permission," Wahkahquah said.
Wahkahquah's last name in Comanche means "riding death." So, in keeping with the Native American theme, she chose "Rolling Death" as her alter ego.
In French, duMonceaux's name means "the mound." So, she "just went a little darker," as she put it, with "La Fleur de Mort," which means "the flower of death."
Sloan said the nickname she arrived at, "Bruise Clues," is probably the least exciting of the three.
"That's just the one I ended up liking," she shrugged. "It was an original."
As for the reaction the Guardsmen get from people when they discover they are members of the Red Dirt Rebellion, they said most people at first don't realize Oklahoma has a team.
Second, they said, people will ask, "Is that real?"
"I tell them everything about it is definitely real," Wahkahquah said, pointing to the bruises on her left arm.
Meanwhile, the Guard members are slated to deploy to Afghanistan next year. Yet, the women will have each other to lean on, just as duMonceaux and Wahkahquah did when they were deployed together to Afghanistan in 2002.
"We're all pretty tight," said Wahkahquah. "We pretty much became mutual friends after that first deployment. We like to mountain bike, rock climb -- just about anything you might consider extreme."
Some might consider roller derby extreme. But for Oklahoma's Guard trio, sustaining a few more bumps and bruises in the rugged, mountainous terrain of Afghanistan might just make them feel right at home.
(Army Sgt. 1st Class Darren D. Heusel serves with the Oklahoma National Guard.)