Down and Derby

Not all heroes wear capes – some wear skates.

The Fredericksburg Roller Derby is no book club.

Fueled by sweat, adrenaline and the rush of competition, a unique group of Fredericksburg women join forces each week in a sport that has long been the subject of speculation and wonder. Born from the women’s liberation movement, glamorized by TV and film, shrouded in flying elbows, fishnet tights and punny names, roller derby remains an enigma. What are the realities of skating in roller derby? Is it really as violent as it seems? And who is actually competing in this sport? We went to find out.

Jennifer Watson, 42, and Elizabeth Keyser, 39, are two such competitors. Best known by their pseudonyms, Rosie D. Ribhitter and Mad Libs, respectively, these Fredericksburg skaters answer our most burning questions about roller derby in Virginia. Here, they divulge the truth about the strength and passion of their sport, reflecting on the love and loyalty built between teammates, and revealing that just as in life, there is no off-season in derby.

What do you do when you’re not playing derby?

Rosie D. Ribhitter: I’m a member services manager for the FBI National Academy Associates.

Mad Libs: Recruitment coordinator for Quarles Petroleum.

How long have you been on Fredericksburg Roller Derby team?

Rosie D. Ribhitter: I’ve been on the team since July of 2013, so it’s my fourth season.

Mad Libs: I started in October of 2013, so this is also my fourth season.

What position do you play?

Rosie D. Ribhitter:  I’m a blocker.

Mad Libs: I play blocker, but I also jam, which is kind of unusual for someone my size. Usually jammers are much smaller, but about two seasons ago I started jamming, and I kind of love it, though it’s extremely exhausting.

Editor’s note: There is typically one jammer and four blockers per team on the track at one time. Jammers score points for their team by skating a full lap around the opposing team, while blockers attempt to both help their jammer score and hinder the opposing team’s jammer.

How did you first get into skating and later, derby?

Rosie D. Ribhitter: Well, I grew up roller skating. In high school they would have Friday night at the roller skating rink, and roller skating got really big in the late ‘70s … and then I didn’t roller skate for 20, maybe 15 years until my kids starting getting invited to skating birthday parties. And so the moms, a lot of us started skating again, and somebody had mentioned how roller derby was in Fredericksburg now, and we thought “oh, maybe we should check that out.” And then I was like, you know what, I am, because I love roller skating, so I thought, “why don’t I see what this is all about?”

Jennifer Watson, aka “Rosie D. Ribhitter”

Mad Libs: I had started skating as a kid. I was born in the late ‘70s and kind of grew up in the ‘80s skating around the neighborhood … about four or five years ago I had been a stay-at-home mom for a couple of years, and it gets a little bit challenging sometimes being at home with little ones. I saw on Facebook the Fredericksburg Roller Derby, which at the time was called Five Forty Roller Girls. They were having an open house– they call it a fresh meat open house, where they’re recruiting for new skaters–and so I just went, kind of like “let me go check this out see what it’s all about. And I was hooked and really stuck with it ever since.”

Why compete in roller derby?

Rosie D. Ribhitter: Because I’m passionate about it. I started when I was 38, and now I’m 42, and I never thought I’d find a sport that I’d want to be athletic in. Sports are usually something you’d think of in high school or college years, and I’m a mom, [with] two kids, and now I’m doing this. It’s really been a great life experience. And it’s with women of all age groups. It’s really revolutionary. It kind of defies stereotypes, because women are coming together from all age groups and all experiences, some having no experience whatsoever to some having experience with team sports and skating.

Mad Libs: I really have no idea. You know, it sounds so funny, but it’s kind of like I just sort of became an adrenaline junkie.

What’s the biggest challenge of roller derby?

Rosie D. Ribhitter: I would say probably endurance, because it is a lot of wear and tear being in a contact sport, and there really is no off-season. You are constantly either training or in season or prepping for the next season. So it’s really the endurance. There really is no “I’m going to check it out and then walk away from it.” If you have a passion for it, you’re going to devote a lot of time to it.

Mad Libs: One of the things that is totally a big challenge for anyone playing derby is the annual assessment, [which] tests a certain minimum basic skill set. And so one of the things that is always the toughest to pass is 27 in 5: You must skate 27 laps around the track in 5 minutes. Which means you’re skating mostly an 11-second lap. And there are girls who have mastered a lot of the footwork, they get the game, they know the rule set, but they can’t get around that hurdle. It’s tough. And it’s really difficult building endurance.

How violent does roller derby really get?

Rosie D. Ribhitter: Roller derby is a contact sport and injuries are going to happen. I don’t know if it’s maybe because it’s women that it’s so unusual. But you wear protective gear. As for violence, it’s not violent without a purpose. It’s more of, like, hitting and shoving to maneuver yourself into a better position and to move your jammer [the only skater able to score points for their team] into a better position. Sometimes, with the showmanship of the ‘70s and everything, it’s not the violence that you saw back then, but as with any contact sport, when you see a good hit, it’s like, “oh wow.”

Mad Libs: I think it’s not as violent as it used to be. The old derby that we used to watch on TV was somewhere between a real sport and also being staged a little bit, like throwing elbows and stuff like that. There are a lot of rules in place. It is aggressive for sure. No doubt about that. It can be a little violent, but I would say no more violent than football, and maybe even a little bit less so.

What’s the worst injury you’ve ever sustained from derby?

Rosie D. Ribhitter: The worst I’ve had was when I partially tore a ligament in my ankle, but then I fractured my foot with just general wear and tear of skating. I think a lot of runners get that. The hardest one to get over was I injured my shoulder. I had a rotator cuff injury, and so that took a lot of time to get over. That seems really dramatic because it’s really just more wear and tear. It’s funny, they always call me Robot Rosie because at one point I had an ankle brace, a shoulder brace … and I’m like, “just slap some tape on it, let’s keep going.” 

Elizabeth Keyser, aka “Mad Libs”

Mad Libs: I have sprained both MCLs [medial collateral ligament] in my knees, and each time I was down for about six weeks. I also tore a tendon in my wrist when I fell and put my hand out and kind of over extended my thumb. I thought it was broken for sure, but tendon tears unfortunately are often harder to recover from. You’re kind of more likely to slip into the same type of injury again if you’re not careful.

What’s it like to go to a match?

Rosie D. Ribhitter: Exciting! Action-packed. Family-oriented, in a lot of different ways, because I’ve had kids [come watch] – and a lot of people say “how can you let them watch that?” But it’s not like that. They’re seeing women who are in a contact sport, and the different fans rooting for their particular team, and the kids really get into it. Especially the young girls, because it’s not often that you’ll find women participating in a contact sport like that. You see football, you see hockey, things like that. I’ve worked with kids before and they come see me out there on the track, and think it’s just the most exciting thing.

Mad Libs: Well, it’s pretty exciting. I mean, I’ve gone to a lot of games, obviously, from playing, and it’s really intense. You see people sometimes maybe get hit or there’s kind of like a moment, you know, of worry. It’s fun, and we have great fans.

Favorite moment of any match?

Rosie D. Ribhitter: What I do, [what] I’m known for is when I’m in a wall and the opposing jammer has gotten through and gotten past everybody, I will sprint forward and try to knock her out. [It’s] like she thinks she’s safe but she’s not. Our friends call it the Nightcrawler move or something. So there was one time where I did that Nightcrawler move thing and I hit the girl blind in front of the crowd, and it was just such a fantastic hit. So that was pretty cool.

Mad Libs: Well it depends on if I’m blocking or jamming. If I’m jamming, my team giving me offense is always going to be my favorite thing … and it’s always great when you’re recognized as an MVP. The other team usually picks who the MVP’s are, so when you’re recognized by the other team, usually it’s because your skills are on point but also your sportsmanship. I’m not going to lie, there’s crappy attitudes occasionally. But at the same time, I will say I’ve never played in or known a sport with so much sportsmanship and comradery … most of the time, there’s always a lot of love between leagues.

Any favorite derby names?

Rosie D. Ribhitter: There’s so many good ones. On our team we’ve got Shananagunz. It’s a cool play on her own name and we call her Gunz for short. Some people don’t even get to pick their name, it just sort of evolves. One girl showed up to practice wearing old fashioned white high top roller skates, and our coach called her Old School, and that’s such a fun name!

Mad Libs: We have a girl on our team, she’s on the All Stars, and she plays also for the Virginia All Stars. Her name is TI, and when I first started skating with her, her name was Miss-Calculation, and her number was TI-83, which not everybody knows but is a Texas Instrument accounting calculator. She’s a finance person, she works at the Pentagon doing number crunching or whatever it is that she does – a math nerd more or less, but an amazing player. So I’m partial to those names that take a piece of someone’s identity and spin it into something clever.

What’s the best part of participating in this sport?

Rosie D. Ribhitter: It’s really hard to pinpoint one thing. I love just all of it, that I’m able to participate and be competitive. So I’m proud of myself for that and then I’m proud of my teammates. And being part of a team, that feels really good. So kind of the whole compilation of everything.

Mad Libs: I would have to say the comradery, the genuine respect and the sportsmanship that is there. It’s really true, and it’s hard to kind of describe until you’re there and part of it, but it’s a community of people who are so inclusive. It doesn’t matter if you’re gay, straight, bi, transgender, it’s such an awesome community who come together for the love of the sport. And none of us get paid to do this, we just love it, and we obviously spend a lot of our time and money to keep it going. So you really have to love something like that.

Visit for the league’s season schedule and more information about the team.

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