FARMINGTON — About a dozen women gathered Thursday at Skate Away USA in Farmington.
Strapping on skates, they began skating in circles, staying close to each other in a single-file line as they warmed up for the Animas Roller Girls practice. They stayed in the line — called a pace line — for about 10 minutes during warm ups before skating to the center of the rink to stretch.
For many women on the team, roller derby provides a place to unwind and bond with other women, creating a kind of sisterhood on skates.
"To be a derby girl is like the cherry on the cake," said Karen DiGiacomo, the team's coach and a referee.
She explained that being a derby girl is great, but it's not the only way people can participate in roller derby.
What: March Madness Scrimmage
When: 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Saturday, March 15
Where: Skate Away USA, 2101 Bloomfield Highway, Farmington
More info: 505-632-2200
Originally, DiGiacomo wanted to be a derby girl, but, living in a four-generation household, she couldn't risk getting injured, so she opted to be a referee and a coach. Because seven referees police a single bout, or competition, there are also positions open for refs.
"My family saw how much I loved it and are very supportive," said DiGiacomo, whose derby name is LB Cake.
She isn't the only one with a family to think of.
Most of the women on the team are mothers or have full-time jobs. Three are grandmothers, and some work multiple jobs to support their families.
Derby provides them a chance to do something for themselves.
"You can't worry about what's going on at home when you're on the rink," DiGiacomo said.
That's partly because derby is a fast-paced, contact sport.
In derby, players have to be within 10 feet of each other. Lines on the court mark every 10 feet. A team consists of five members — one pivot, three blockers and one jammer. The players are identified by their helmets. The pivot wears a stripe on her helmet while the jammer has a star on hers. The blockers do not wear helmet covers.
The Animas Roller Girls practice from 6 to 8 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays at Skate Away USA, 2101 Bloomfield Highway in Farmington.
Membership fees are $50 per month. For more information, call Sommer at 505-632-2200 or Karen at 505-609-0630.
In a competition or bout, the pivot player starts at the front of the line and guides her teammates. Blockers perform both offensive and defensive tasks, blocking the opposing team's jammer while helping their own.
The jammer scores points by lapping members of the other team.
For many of the Animas Roller Girls, once they tried derby, they couldn't give it up.
"I just decided to come to practice, and I've been hooked ever since," said Alysha Shipley, one of the newer members.
Shipley joined the group two months ago. Before then, she lived in Flagstaff, Ariz., where she attended Northern Arizona University and studied social work. She was interested in roller derby, but didn't have time to participate. She graduated in spring 2013 and returned to Farmington.
Because Shipley hasn't yet passed her skills test, she hasn't received her "derby name." Derby names are chosen by the athletes and can be creative, tough or humorous. The names are then registered. Each derby girl has to have a unique name and a roster keeps track of all the names.
For the derby girls, receiving their names is a right of passage. Before that happens, they have to pass both written and skills tests. The skills test involves completing 27 laps around the rink in less than five minutes and jumping three inches in the air while moving and landing safely.
Once they pass the test, the women are allowed to compete.
As she prepares for the test, Shipley said she enjoys the support of her fellow roller girls.
It's that same camaraderie that keeps women like Taira Shelton, whose derby name is Misbehaven, coming back to practice each week.
"It's something that grown women can apply themselves to and feel good about," she said.
Women also enjoy the added health benefits from the strenuous sport.
"By the end of the night, we'll all be covered in sweat and exhausted," said Sommer Gurule, or Homicidoll Honey.
But, she said, it doesn't feel like a workout because the women are having so much fun.
Crystal Roberts, also known as Dixlexya, joined the team to stay healthy, but was surprised by the environment she found.
"Everybody becomes really close," Roberts said. "I didn't really expect that to happen with girls, but it did."
While derby has a reputation for being physical, the women on the Animas Roller Girls say that doesn't outweigh their sportsmanship.
Coach DiGiacomo said she was afraid of being hit when she first started playing derby. But, she said, she quickly overcame that fear. After being knocked down, she said many of the roller girls lay on the floor giggling.
While they are competitive on the court, during parties after tournament teams gather and show off their bruises.
DiGiacomo said it isn't uncommon after the tournament for a player who is knocked down in a competition to tell the woman who knocked them down that she had a good push.
"I think the sisterhood and the love outweighs whatever the supposed toughness is," DiGiacomo said.