Minnesota RollerGirls represent University

Courtney Sinner

Rollerskating in a miniskirt and fishnet stockings, hip-checking other girls and showing off her battle-scars to fellow teammates is the epitome of stress relief for Rachel Herder.

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rollergirls
WHAT: Roller derby
when: 7:30 p.m., Mar. 8
where: Roy Wilkins Auditorium, St. Paul
cost: Tickets are $10 in advance or $12 at the door
For more information, go to www.mnrollergirls.com.

Her roller derby hobby is a far cry from her daytime routine. The 25-year-old molecular biology and law graduate student spends her days in class and studying hormones in a fruit fly lab.

Herder is a member of the Minnesota RollerGirls, a local nonprofit women’s roller derby league with around 80 skaters, now in its fourth season.

Herder said being involved with the RollerGirls has helped her keep balance in her busy life.

“My time is a precious commodity, but I can’t study for 15 hours straight,” she said. “It’s been a nice outlet to put my energies elsewhere for a couple hours.”

This is Herder’s second season with the Garda Belts, her team in the league. She tried out for a spot in July 2006 after a classmate invited her to a “bout” – the roller derby term for a game.

Herder said she practiced for three months before tryouts, and then had another three months of boot camp before being drafted to a team.

Other teams in the league are the Atomic Bombshells, the Rockits and the Dagger Dolls.

Jen Plum, a senior neuroscience student, is co-captain of the Garda Belts.

Plum said she got involved after accidentally going to a recruitment party with a friend.

“I went to a practice and, you know, got my butt handed to me and absolutely loved it,” she said. “I like the idea of being involved in a full-contact sport where we get to look cute.”

Although the brightly colored team uniforms can suggest the bouts are scripted, Herder stressed that they aren’t staged or planned like some people think.

“That doesn’t happen – we don’t know the outcome,” Herder said. “The emotions are real emotions. It’s not like we practice fake fights in practice.”

Sarah Westman, a 2004 University alumna, skates for the Atomic Bombshells.

She said one of the biggest misconceptions is that the girls are all aggression, all the time.

“In actuality, we all have day jobs and donate to charity and are very compassionate people,” Westman said.

She said men can be intimidated and challenged by the rollergirl status, “like, ‘Oh, I bet you could kick my ass,’ ” Westman said. “It’s not that we couldn’t, but why would we want to?”

Injuries, like in any contact sport, are common, and the RollerGirls often trade stories and brag about their fishnet-shaped bruises.

“I’ve witnessed a couple broken ankles,” Plum said. “But, you know, who hasn’t?”

Serious injuries can put a girl out for a few months, like in Plum’s case.

While playing in Kansas City, Mo., she slid and accidentally took out a 200-pound male referee, who landed on top of her.

Plum had a rotated pelvis, torn adductors in her right leg, and torn abdominal muscles as a result.

“Yeah, that didn’t feel too good. I got up and I played the rest of the game,” Plum said. “Once the adrenaline wore off, I could barely walk.”

But she was back to skating at full strength three months later.

Alexandra Klass, an associate professor in the Law School, had Herder as a student last year when she found out about the local roller derby scene.

She took her family to one of the bouts and said there was a diverse audience of people in wigs and costumes.

Plum said the variety of attendees has made it accessible to a wider audience.

“You’ll have somebody with full-on tattoos sitting next to somebody’s 90-year-old grandma, sitting next to a frat boy, sitting next to the art major that only hangs out on West Bank,” she said.

Klass said the bout she went to was chaotic, but fun.

“There’s at least 10 women on roller skates in very close proximity to each other, trying to edge each other out and get ahead,” she said. “There’s people falling all over the place.”

Part of the craziness can be attributed to the girly-but-dangerous personas that the RollerGirls adopt.

Herder, also known as Ann E. Briated, said the girls usually pick nicknames to go with their personality.

“For me, it’s my academic personality versus my rockstar partying personality,” she said. “Like an alter-ego coming out to play since I’m normally so serious.”

Plum, whose nickname is Hanna Belle Lector, said the similarity lies in the demeanor.

“It’s not like I see myself as an actual cannibal, going out there and eating the livers of people or anything like that, but just kind of the whole mind-game thing,” she said. “I like to try to play smart, and I’m not a real vocal person when I’m out there, so a lot of what I do is very reserved.”

Plum said she couldn’t see her involvement stopping any time soon.

“Roller derby will always be a part of life, whether it is in me talking about it to my kids or grandkids and pulling out old pictures, or remaining with a love of skating,” she said. “We’ll probably have a really good run of it, and you know, I’ll ride it for as long as it takes.”