by Tammy Wilber
AKA “Hot Wheels, # T-5/6”
When most people think of Roller Derby, the Drew Barrymore movie “Whip It” usually comes to mind. But not everyone has the opportunity to watch Roller Derby live. Fortunately though, the sport is rapidly increasing in popularity across the nation.
I didn’t have any exposure to Roller Derby until 2006, when one of my co-workers invited me to watch her. At the time I was Ms. Wheelchair Washington and was looking for some interesting and different ways I could break down the stereotypes of people with disabilities. Watching Roller Derby on that day, I became inspired to get involved. Roller Derby is not a wheelchair sport, but watching these women on skates speed around the track, I knew that I belonged in this arena somehow. I loved the fact that it was a women-dominated sport, but I wondered what role I could possibly play. After some brainstorming, the idea came up for me to be the flag bearer during the National Anthem. As long as I didn’t have to sing, I was up for the part. Once I was flag bearer for the first time, I was hooked!
It didn’t take long to figure out the best way for me to push while holding the American flag. During the National Anthem, I attach the American flag to my tennis wheelchair, which I can push and turn much faster than my everyday chair. I have to get going at a certain speed to make sure the flag waves behind me, and sometimes I add really fast spins to get the crowd going. I am known to the roller derby girls as “Hot Wheels” and my team number is T 5-6, which is my spinal cord injury level.
After my first “bout,” people came up to me and asked me if I got hurt as Flag Bearer? First off, no I did not get hurt participating in Roller Derby, but I have seen many women get pretty bruised from falls, get knocked down or land in the crowd as they round the corners on the derby track. This is a tough sport!
|Tammy as Flag Bearer|
The league that I became the Flag Bearer for was the Rat City Roller Girls of Seattle, WA. When I first started, their bouts were held at an old airport hanger, and after the third season they moved to a huge facility called at the Seattle Center. All the teams in the league wore funky team outfits, which included everything from fishnet stockings to skulls on their helmets. I loved it because once a month I could pretend it was Halloween and step outside my comfort zone and get crazy with my outfits. The atmosphere at the derby was filled with tough women on roller skates, hard rock music playing and a diverse crowd. This sport attracted everyone. It was so funny because I felt such a connection to these women and, even though they were all able-bodied, for a few hours each month they were all on wheels like me.
One of the most amazing things that came out of my participation in Roller Derby was what it did for my good friend Addie. A few years ago I met Addie while visiting her in the hospital when she was newly injured. She was injured while on Spring Break from college and became paralyzed from a rare surfing injury called Surfer's Myelopthy. From the beginning, Addie and I had a lot in common; I hoped I would be a good mentor. I learned that prior to her injury, Addie had been a competitive figure skater and loved being in the spotlight. One way I wanted to help Addie was by showing her different types of activities she could still try to keep her competitive spirit going. Together we tried wheelchair dancing, among other activities.
When I first told Addie about my involvement with the Rat City Roller Girls as their Flag Bearer, she thought it was pretty cool. Then one day a perfect opportunity presented itself. I had to travel for a work trip, and I asked Addie if she would sub for me at the next bout. I set her up with my tennis wheelchair and she practiced the turning and speed needed to make the flag wave. She was a natural! I asked Addie what it was like for her in front of the crowd of 3,000 people and she answered, “I remember being a little nervous before I went out with the flag for the first time, but as soon as the spotlight came on I felt comfortable. I found the experience to be very fulfilling and even thrilling. I had heard of roller derby before, but I knew nothing about it; however, I fell in love with the sport the first time I was the flag bearer.” Addie filled a void that existed within her as a competitor, and I was happy to know that anytime I had to miss a roller derby bout, she would take my spot!
|Addie as Flag Bearer|
While discussing our respective experiences as flag bearer, Addie and I shared the same feeling of typically being left out of the National Anthem tradition. You see, at many major sporting events, the announcer says, “Will you please STAND for the National Anthem?” In fact, a few years ago I wrote a blog about this very topic: http://tammy4varilite.blogspot.com/2008/09/please-stand-for-national-anthem-but-i.html. Addie stated that she found the idea of being the flag bearer exciting because it is another way of being involved in the tradition, and I can’t agree more.
After five seasons with the Rat City Roller Derby I was sad to tell the team I was moving to Las Vegas and would not be returning as their flag bearer. As sad as I was to be leaving, I was thrilled that Addie was going to carry on the tradition and continue what I had started. She has now been the Rat City Roller Derby’s flag bearer for a full season and said she feels like part of the team. Addie elaborates, “It is rare to see a disabled person highlighted at a sporting event like this, but I think it opens people’s eyes to the many abilities that disabled people have….I no longer feel left out of the opening ceremonies as I watch everyone else rise; I am now part of the ceremony and represent America.”
After moving to Las Vegas, I couldn’t believe how much I missed my role as flag bearer, so I contacted the Sin City Roller Derby. I wasn’t sure if they were going to be open to the idea of a flag bearer in a wheelchair, but they welcomed me into the league. So there I was in a new city, in a new derby league and, once again, I was representing women rollers during the National Anthem. Addie and I are both heading into our second seasons as flag bearers for the derby leagues in Las Vegas and Seattle. We are both having a blast and changing people’s perspectives about what it means to represent a different kind of “rolling.” Catch the roller girl fever and contact your local roller derby team!
What is Roller Derby?
* It is was invented in America and is a contact sport
* It was formed on the base of roller skating around an oval track
* It consists of two teams
* Points are scored when one player who is called “The Jammer” laps the members of the opposing team
* The National league is called Women’s Flat Track Derby Association
* Every derby player has their own unique name and number. Half of the time I never know the players real names, instead I might have to ask for “Momma Cherry” or “Pia Mess.” Here is a link to the “Master List” of all the Roller girls’ names: www.twoevils.org/rollergirls/
* For more information on Roller Derby, visit http://wftda.com
Tammy is working as a Clinical Admin Coordinator at United Health Group in Las Vegas and is also State Coordinator for the Ms. Wheelchair Nevada pageant. Send Tammy an email at Tammywheels@yahoo.com.