The Debu-Taunts train to make their derby debut

The Minnesota RollerGirls’ Debu-Taunts program teaches derby and empowers skaters.

The Debu-Taunts team listens to a trainer during practice on Sunday, Feb. 24 at Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul. The Debu-Taunts training program of the Minnesota RollerGirls meets every Sunday to teach developing skaters about the world of derby.

Elle Moulin

The Debu-Taunts team listens to a trainer during practice on Sunday, Feb. 24 at Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul. The Debu-Taunts training program of the Minnesota RollerGirls meets every Sunday to teach developing skaters about the world of derby.

Ksenia Gorinshteyn

It takes stamina, strength and an insurance card to roll with the Minnesota RollerGirls’ Debu-Taunts.

Whether they started with a background in roller derby or not, the trainees in the program look forward to tying up their skates every week.

“It’s good to be good [at sports] and it’s good to support yourself, but it’s also great to support other people,” said Debu-Taunt Jocelyn Runton, otherwise known as Polly Pocketknife. “It’s physically what we do, but it’s also mentally what we do.”

The Debu-Taunts is a 12-week training program open to almost anyone interested in roller derby, as long as certain requirements are met.

Grace Christenson, known as Spunky Bruiser, and her fiancee Alicia Tatley, known as Wench Toast, signed up for the Debu-Taunts after watching some derby games a few years ago.

“[Starting out] was scary,” Tatley said. “You’re really confused and not really sure what’s going on and it’s really fast-paced and just exhausting.”

Roller derby is a contact sport where two teams skate around a rink in order to gain points. The Debs can work their way through four levels, the fourth level being 3S, or the scrimmage level. Then, members can become game eligible and play with an official league.

“Once you do it a few times, it tends to kind of slow down. Your body starts doing what it needs to do to get past someone,” Tatley said. “There’s a little less thought.”

Even from the outside, derby looks like a physically demanding sport. There is no shortage of sweat and bruises in the game.

“You have to hold each other pretty tightly to keep in contact so you’ll get like fingerprint bruises,” Christenson said. “[To play a game] you have to be able to skate backwards [and] do a full stop a couple of different ways. You have to be able to get hit without completely falling over.”

But the sport is also extremely emotional. Skaters in the program become stronger in more ways than one. 

“We skate with scientists and doctors and housewives and preschool teachers and every different kind of person that there is,” Runton said. “But on the track that doesn’t matter. We can come together and hug each other and hit each other and be completely on the same side. That’s helped me grow as a person.”

Every part of the sport is team-based. The Debs aren’t only working on skating and jamming, but on communication and trust, too.

“This is the first sport that I played where I’ve really been a team member,” Christenson said. “I’m working on how to relay to other people without having to [vocally] communicate. And what [to] communicate with people to make sure that you’re all on the same page.”

The physical and emotional aspects of derby are a given on the track, but the skaters’ different backgrounds make the sport more than just a hobby.

“We don’t talk much about what we do on the outside, but once you catch what your teammates may do on the outside, it’s so amazing,” Runton said. “To realize that your teammates are absolutely amazing people … that’s what makes me come back.”

From level one to 3S, the Debs grow together, support each other and (sometimes) knock each other down.

“I have friends that I started at level one with and it’s kind of a camaraderie,” Tatley said. “Like, ‘Oh you’re my friend, great, I can’t wait to knock you down when I’m scrimmage eligible, let’s hit each other.’”