Chicks dig scars.
At least, it's true of the Tampa Bay Derby Darlins skaters. Most can regale you with a story of how they beat down another player or may have accidentally bruised themselves.
They wear them as badges of honor won in the all-female contact sport known as roller derby, where they come out wearing fishnets, short skirts and classic four-wheel skates in a mayhem-filled sprint around a skating rink.
"It's really intense," said Shannon Rich, who goes by Shan O'Mercy when she blocks for the Vicegrip Vixens, one of three teams in the Derby Darlins league. "It's one of the few sports where we can play offense and defense at the same time. While we are trying to assist our own points-scorer, we're trying to kill theirs. There's a lot going on."
If all of this kamikaze craziness sounds like fun, you can see it for yourself when the Tampa Tantrums, a travel team comprised of members from all three teams, take on the Nashville Rollergirls at 8 p.m. Saturday. We've got some basics for you to know before you head out — and at least one big question for you to decide: Do you want to sit back safe and sound, or can you handle the rink-side seating known as the "suicidal" section?
Rules? Yep there are some: Here's the skinny, without making things too complicated.
Two teams each send five players onto the track for a jam, or round. Three blockers and a pivot (essentially a blocker) on each team make up the main line of defense. These women train themselves hard to take up the whole lane, and if they can't, they try to get the points-scorer to the floor. That person scoring the points would be called the jammer.
Points can only be scored by the jammers, who attempt to pass the pack and lap around as many times as possible during a jam, the two-minute match period. Each game consists of two 30-minute or three 20-minute periods. At the end of each jam, players reform the pack and continue to play. As you watch the action, you'll see some of the subtleties of the match, with unsportsmanlike calls and jams being called off earlier than regulation time. But some of the fun of watching is picking up the game from the veterans in the crowd or the skaters themselves.
Punky showsters: Pulling on fishnets and a skirt for a full-contact sport? All part of the show.
"This is a pretty intense hard sport. There's a bit of a show that goes on, I mean, it's girls knocking each other over, but we also train hard, play hard and work hard," said Leia Flat, captain of the Cigar City Mafia, another league team.
Kim Chaffin, of St. Petersburg, a.k.a. Flirtin' W. Disaster, is a jammer for the Switchblade Sisters and counts 20 sets in her drawer at home. Perfect, they aren't; in fact, many skaters rip holes in them before they even take the floor.
"A lot of girls will cut the feet out of them because they get caught up in your toes or toe rings or whatever," Chaffin said. "The more ripped up the better. They are all ripped up. I think I only have one pair I retired because of the holes."
Chaffin, who sports the famous Tommy Tutone phone number on her jersey, also throws slogans across her backside, flipping up her skirt to show off messages that say "Call me" and "Enjoy the view."
"My ass is famous," she said, pointing at a picture of her flipped skirt on a flier. "Derby panties have become sort of a fashion around the country, but I just enjoy showing it off when I score. It's part of the show."
Party like a ...: "It's like being a rock star," Chaffin said. "You know, there's a few girls that vomit from time to time because of the anxiety, but when you are out on that line, waiting for that whistle to blow, it's like an explosion. You are a beast and you are going to skate hard through all those girls. I think, 'Where can I go? Who can I hit and how can I use my blockers?' My coach tells me never to think. Just react and to just do it."
Melissa East, a 38-year-old Bright House technician, said she takes on a different persona when she hits the floor.
"I don't have to be nice," said East, known as Kid Vicious on the derby circuit. "I fell in love with this sport because it's like nothing else you can do in life. It's the only place you can legally hit other girls."
Old school, meet new school: Derby women have jobs like the rest of us. It's just that they're business professionals by day, speed queens and beasts on the rink by night.
Take Rich, for example. She is a 29-year-old Hillsborough County teacher. And she uses this as a good way of getting out for fun while releasing some steam built up from her job.
She laughed as she told stories about clashing wheels with other skaters. Rich has dislocated her elbow, but the worst injury came when a skater zoomed up behind her and caught her off guard. She hit the floor; it was whiplash.
"The chiropractor said it looked like I got hit by a car. I told him, 'No I got hit by a Mack truck with braids,' " she said.
In their own league: Katherine Lansdowne of Gulfport started to play because she had a passion for skating. She didn't know it would turn into an outing where she made so many friends along the way.
"There is a camaraderie that so many derby skaters have for each other, even the girls that you have never met in leagues that you have never heard of are somehow tied together," she said. "It is a strange and awesome thing that most of us never expected but cherish all the same."
Skate or die: It all started with a girl who goes by Dee Bauchery. She formed the league in October 2005.
After five months of training and player evaluations, the league broke into four teams: Black Widows, Cigar City Mafia, Switchblade Sisters and the Vicegrip Vixens. Two more months passed and they had the first bout in May 2006.
Since they started, the Black Widows no longer skate, but instead a travel team was formed — the Tantrums. There are about 16 players on each team and more than 50 women who skate with the Derby Darlins. They also count 12 retirees (sadly, no pensions are available after they hang up their skates).
The Darlins have recently been accepted to the Women's Flat Track Derby Association, the governing body of women's roller derby, and will begin having bouts for national rankings.