The Chemical Valley Roller Girls were founded in 2008 in Charleston, W.Va. After much bumping of one another and of opponents around a track, they’re now getting around to their first home ’bout,’ as matches are called, in a double-header event Saturday, Sept. 10 at Charleston Civic Center.
The team is riding the wave of an amateur, do-it-yourself revival in the sport of women’s roller derby. Yet the sport has been revived in a much different way than in the sport’s heyday in the ’50s, ’60s and early ’70s, when it was a showy, professional thrill ride on a banked track, more akin to big-time wrestling on skates. For this Thursday’s Charleston Gazette, I profiled the team in the video above and in this Gazette story, which explains a little more about the changes from then to now in roller derby. For a primer on the rules of the sport and what you’ll be seeing Saturday if you head to the Civic Center, see this Bill Lynch story also in Thursday’s Gazette.
As with any print newspaper story, you can only fit so much into the limited real estate of the daily paper. Below is a Q-and-A with some outtakes of comments by Chemical Valley’s co-captains, team founder Elizabeth Turner (a.k.a. – Liz Vicious), who played the sport for a year with Blue Ridge Roller Girls in Asheville, N.C., before coming to Charleston, and Erin Hart (a.k.a. – Annie Knuckles). It gets a little bit more into the head of what led Turner, 30, and Hart, 31, to plunge into the sport and to stick with it through bumps, bruises and bruised egos. And our apologies to all tennis players, everywhere.
Liz Vicious (Elizabeth Turner), founder of the Chemical Valley Roller Girls.
WESTVIRGINIAVILLE: So why not choose a sensible sport like tennis?
LIZ VICIOUS: That’s boring. If it was not for roller derby, I wouldn’t be playing any other sport. Because it’s so much more than that. If I was just playing tennis, I’d probably know just a few people and have a tennis partner. And that would be lovely. But this – I meet all kinds of people from all different states. I’ve got friends out in California and all over the country because of roller derby. It’s just a different culture than a typical sport. I played soccer through high school and did some stuff when I was younger – ballet. But roller derby’s way more fun. And you get to hit people. That’s always the little kicker to it.
ANNIE KNUCKLES: I never thought that at 31 I would be wearing my underwear on the outside and hitting the crap out of girls, wearing roller skates. But actually I never thought I’d be wearing shorts until about three years when I started playing derby. [LAUGHS].
LIZ VICIOUS: And you become an athlete, too.
ANNIE KNUCKLES: Yeah! I was sitting on the couch and eating all the time.. Now, I can’t do it. I go crazy. I have to get up and move. So, I take it really seriously. It’s the most fun I’ve had being serious about something – ever – in my life.
Annie Knuckles (Erin Hart) | screen grab from video footage
Q: Toughness seems to be an element of making it in derby. How much of this is bravado and how much of it is playing with the other team’s head?
ANNIE KNUCKLES: I don’t like to put any toughness out there that I can’t back up. I know I’m a bad-ass.
Q: Are you a bad-ass by nature? Or has derby brought out the inner bad-ass in you?
LIZ VICIOUS: This is true. [LAUGHTER]. This is totally true. But we train so hard. And we put everything we have into this team. So, whether it’s just practicing or organizing, we put it all in there. And we take it extremely seriously. It’s the most fun we’ve ever had, like she was saying. But its also very serious to us. And we play to win. We can give a scrimmage for funsies. But when it comes to bout time, we’re going out there to win.
Q: The Civic Center is a big place. Do you think you’re going to get a crowd out Saturday? LIZ VICIOUS: I think so. Absolutely. It’s a steal. For two games for 15 bucks? I mean that’s really cheap. In the derby world, most single games you’re looking at least $15, Pre-sale is $12 and it’s a really good bargain. And for it being the first-time in Charleston, I think we’re gonna bring a huge crowd.
ANNIE KNUCKLES: Every time we’ve gone somewhere for the past almost three years, every time we’re out it’s like ‘Where can I see this?’ We’re always asked that question. Now, we’re making it happen – you can see it. At the Civic Center, which is a huge deal.
Q: We all remember – those of us who are a certain age – women’s roller derby from TV in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Is there a clear standard of behavior in the revival of the sport?
ANNIE KNUCKLES: There is a clear 47-and-some odd page handbook of rules and regulations enforced by the ref, but they also need to be known by the skaters. If you don’t know your rules, you’re just skating around in circles. Dangerously. The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association is the rule set we play by.
LIZ VICIOUS: And it’s constantly being updated. And with skaters learning how to use the rule to their advantage, the game keeps changing. Truly knowing the rules of the game is just as important as your skill. You can’t have one without the other. We’ve had skaters try to just be great skaters and not take the time to know the rules – and they just end up getting ejected from games because they get too many penalties.
The roller girls rolling in a Civic Center practice.
Q:A few early members of the Chemical Valley Team quit to form the Heart of Appalachia Roller Derby team. What’s that about and is there any chance of a hometown face-off in the future?
LIZ VICIOUS: Three former members left our team at the end of February. They went and joined the Huntington team for awhile, then started a team in Charleston. They’ve been recruiting and growing from there from what I understand. I would love to challenge them to a bout. I’d love for Charleston to get behind that. I think it’d be a ton of fun for all of us. But, um, with their time they’re a little bit newer and they just need a little bit more practice and a little bit more time before they’re gonna be ready to go up against us. [LAUGHS] I would love it — but I doubt it will happen. I don’t think they are quite ready and will want to play us yet. Maybe next year, once they gain some more skill and all of their skaters can pass their Women’s Flat Track Derby Association test. Maybe we can be in talks then.
Q: What’s your advice to women who might want to try and make the Chemical Valley team? LIZ VICIOUS: Anyone that comes out to our team and wants to make it, can. It’s a lot of determination. But we teach you everything you need to know. For a lot of people it’s time commitment issues. It take up a lot of your time. If you can’t make it with your time, then it’s probably not going to work out. We have two practices a week, which doesn’t seem like a lot – but It really starts to add up. And then we have meetings and we all have our own work to keep things organized especially if we have an upcoming bout.
Then some people, it’s skill level. Some people come in knowing how to skate and they’re pretty natural. And some people come into it not knowing how to do anything. And that’s how I started – not knowing how to roller skate. At all. And I was terrible. And it took a long time for me. And I got busted up and a bruised ego. And hurt. It was really, really rough for me in the beginning. Sometimes I felt I wasn’t wanted on my team – this was back in North Carolina. I kept practicing and practicing practicing. I just kept at it because I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. And I did.
Q: (To Annie Knuckles) Did you ever think of quitting the team? ANNIE KNUCKLES: You know, yeah, I’ve thought of quitting. Not because of skating. I’ve always kind of been a natural skater – I ice skated as a kid. This is my first team sport I’ve ever played. So it’s getting used to a lot of personalities. Yeah, I’ve thought about it a few times. Where it’s just like ‘I don’t know how much I can handle of this…’ And then I kind of snap myself out of that and it’s like… No! You love this. You LOVE this! Don’t let the turds get you down. But really, I think everyone on the team at one point or the other has been super-stressed out and just had a moment where they’re, like: ‘Do I really want this?!’ And if you can answer that question ‘Yes’ after everything, then, yeah, it’s for you. I know it’s for me. There’s no doubt in my mind that this is what I was meant to do at some point in my life.
LIZ VICIOUS: I want to say one more thing – CVRG shuts it down!
ANNIE KNUCKLES (Showing off her one of her several arm tattoos, which displays a dagger tipped with blood and the phrase ‘Knit & Destroy,’ in reference to another passion of hers): Derby cuts into my knitting time. And I’m OK with that.
In the first installment of The Imbrogno Archives: No. 1, Ed Imbrogno recalls growing up in Italy, coming over on the boat from Italy to America, fighting his way through school in Lorain, Ohio, his respect for his father, Eugenio, finding a wife in the Polish neighborhood where they lived and how his mother saved his life walking the donkey trail to get to Cosenza with her sick boy. All in less than eight minutes!