the sport of empowerment

Image courtesy of L.A. Derby Dolls

Image courtesy of L.A. Derby Dolls

If you take a closer look Inside the rough-and-tumble, no-holds-brawling world of roller derby, you’ll see that there is much more that meets the eye. Sure, this full-body contact sport has a reputation for being hard-core and just plain aggressive, but roller derby is also a sport of empowerment and camaraderie.

Andrea Acosta, who goes by the alias of Vanna Fight, explains what she enjoys the most about being part of the L.A. Derby Dolls, “I love that we are all friends and get along very well. At one point we can be hanging and have fun, and on the other get serious and competitive. It’s really cool to experience that on and off switch.” 

The L.A. Derby Dolls is one of the most well-known all-female roller derby leagues in California. The volunteer-run organization was founded in 2003 by Rebecca Ninburg (a.k.a. Demolicious) and Wendy Templeton (a.k.a. Thora Zeen).  

Andrea, is a rookie player for Tough Cookies, one of five teams under the organization. Despite being an L.A. native, she first heard of this community of roller derby skaters after reading an article. After going to see an L.A. Derby Dolls’ match, Andrea described being hooked.

She says knowing nothing about skating, other than it looked fun, “It was something I had to check off my list, it was exciting and I love that empowerment aspect. Andrea added, “So I bought a $50 pair skates from BIG 5, and as soon as the next training session started I was there.”  

After three years of preparation, and training for three hours twice a week, Andrea officially joined the league in October 2014. 

“It was difficult and challenging but I love that is fun, it’s a lot of work but so much fun. I take off my gear at the end of the day and just knowing I was able to do something that I wasn’t able to do a few weeks ago, it’s rewarding.”
— Andrea

Though it's been around since the 1930s, roller derby has been catching on popularity in recent years. The contact sport is played by two teams, each team has about 14-18 players, five of those players are actively skating around the track. All the rough-and-tumble is created when a scoring player called the “jammer” passes other players of the opposing team. The more players the jammer laps, the more the points are earned. In essence the sport is played in offense and defense simultaneously.

Andrea says that the game has taught her about, managing time, being a leader, making an opinion and express that opinion effectively. It has also taught her about working with different personalities.    

Despite being involved with the sport for three years, Andrea hasn’t been seriously hurt. She said the key for this is, 

“to not overthink your next step, just go for it. By the time you think of what next step you’ll execute, it’s probably too late.”
— Andrea


It’s important to point out that every member of the the league has an alias, a unique alias. Actually as per league’s rules, every member has to come up with a name that not only describes them, but also that doesn’t overlap with other player’s name. To keep track of this, there is an online roster as a guide to what names have been used already.

In Andrea’s case, she says it was a bit difficult to come up with her alias. It was during work, when she was pointing firmly to something and her coworker mocked the way she used her hands as if she was showcasing something, just like Vanna White from Wheel of Fortune. Andrea changed the last name to Fight, to give a little aggression and intimidation to the entire name, she said.   

Like many of the Derby Dolls, Andrea not only competes but also volunteers her time to help run the organization. Every summer, the Doll Factory opens its doors to host a job and health fair. The L.A. Derby Dolls work with various entities to offer self defense classes, health awareness workshops, resume building, blood drives and they work with a mobile mammography unit to offer free screenings.

“...the L.A. Derby Dolls organization thrives because of the members who volunteer their time and skills. The organization is made up of current and former skaters, referees, and the derby doll army -- fans who volunteer for the league. L.A. Derby Dolls is diverse, and we are all passionate about the sport of roller derby.” Andrea said.

[This article was originally created and published for La Opinion]