Explaining the roller derby as “a bunch of girls on roller skates” doesn’t accurately paint the picture of the fast, elbow-throwing, ruthless women who make up the Minnesota RollerGirls.
The activity, which began in the 1930s and morphed into a full-contact sport, found its way to Minnesota in 2004 after the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association was founded. Now, there are four teams (plus the All-Star teams), with roughly 20 women on each team. While they practice and play their matches (called “bouts”) at Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul, where they’ll also host the International Championships November 6-8, the team members come from all over the Twin Cities, including Woodbury.
Resident Sandy Olson, or SandblastHER, as her teammates know her, was born into a roller-derby-loving family. “My mom is 82 and played roller derby as an 18-year-old at the armory,” she says, “and that’s how my parents met.” SandblastHER skated throughout childhood and into her adult life. As her children entered their teen years, they informed her that roller skating wasn’t cool, and bought her some roller blades. “So when my kids went off to college, I pulled out my skates,” she says.
SandblastHER’s neighbor saw her skating in the cul-de-sac and told her about Minnesota RollerGirls, so SandblastHER joined a recreational league for a year, then tried out for the RollerGirls. Though she didn’t make it the first year, she did the second, onto the Atomic Bombshells, and this year is on the All-Star B team—at 53 years old.
And tryouts are no lazy stroll around the track. After the initial tryouts, the remaining women (roughly 20) are put through boot camp. “Three months, three days a week, for two hours,” SandblastHER recalls. “I was never in better shape in my whole life. It was harder than giving birth, I’ll tell you that.”
And her name? “My co-worker helped me with it,” she says. “I wanted to keep my name in it … and I love to blast people.”
Once you’re on the team, being a member of Minnesota RollerGirls is more than the practices and once-a-month competitions. You have a role on the board, and are required to take part in volunteer work with the organization. That’s what SandblastHER was doing, volunteering at a 5K, when she met runner Carrie Warosh, also known as Maul E. Coddle.
“She said, ‘You have to try it,’” Maul E. says of SandblastHER. Maul E. didn’t grow up with roller derby like SandblastHER, but she did grow up in Woodbury with roller skating at the Woodbury Fun Zone recreation roller rink in the ’80s. “My only real job in high school was to work at the roller rink,” she says.
Maul E. took part in a few clinics to prepare, and turned 46 the day after making it through tryouts, only to be rewarded with the 12-week boot camp. The captains draft-pick their teams after boot camp, but there’s still a threat of not making a team. “There are girls who have been through [boot camp], and a week before draft have been injured,” forcing them out of the running, Maul E. says.
Her name came from an article she read about the derby: “It said there was no mollycoddling in roller derby,” she says. “I tend to be on the smaller side of derby players,” so the name seemed a natural fit.
The season starts in October and runs through April, and the requirement to remain on the team is to make 66 percent of practices, continue volunteering throughout the year, and take a seat on one of the committees. “This year I’ll be safety manager,” Maul E. says. Her job will be to make sure safety rules are followed, like having an EMT at practice, or “during a game, if someone were to get expelled, I deal with that.”
The volunteer work the organization does varies. Maul E. says, “We do stuff for the Ann Bancroft Foundation,” and they give back to organizations that sponsor the teams, or organizations that have meant a lot to skaters, such as the humane society.
“It’s a group of women and it’s owned and operated by us,” SandblastHER says. “We all have a role; we volunteer.”
The ownership might be part of why it’s been such a successful organization—that, and it’s fun. “I heard another skater say something like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so much fun!’ and someone responded, ‘Well, it’d better be fun, it’s just a hobby,’” Maul E. recalls.
This family-friendly hobby has some big goals. “The idea is that we can empower younger girls,” Maul E. says. “We range from lawyers and doctors that play with us. We have these strong women who aren’t afraid to get physical.”
“It’s probably one of the only women’s contact sports that I know that I can be a part of at a high level,” SandblastHER says. It’s a collaboration, she says. “That’s why I love it.”
Minnesota Rollergirls upcoming matches at Roy Wilkins:
Nov. 6-8 International WFTDA Championships
Nov. 21 Regular Season Bout #2
Dec. 19 Regular Season Bout #3
(Photo by Ashes Photographics)