Here on the Hill, you can’t look left or right without seeing the iconic black-eyed mascot of The Rat City Roller Girls. However, the wildly popular “flat track” league isn’t the only flavor of Roller Derby now available to local fans. You may be surprised to learn that the banked track — which people who remember the ‘70s may remember from the ‘70s — is making a bold comeback.
In 2009, the Tilted Thunder Rail Birds (TTRB) launched a new Derby league in Seattle, with little more than pure gumption and a passion for skating around an oval with a 35%-45% incline from the interior to the edge. That, and a penchant for bruises, blood, and fishnet stockings.
On the eve of the National Championship Banked Track Tournament taking place in Everett on June 1-3, CHS sat down with Capitol Hill resident Nicole Stotts, 30, a.k.a. Tara Hoedown of the Sugar Skulls, one of the four teams that make up the TTRB.
We have bad news for you Barbie Beatdown — you’d better stay off 15th Ave E.
I love your Derby name: Tara Hoedown. At first, I thought maybe you were Dutch, then I had an “aaaaaah!” moment. Does this name reflect your personality, on and/or off the track?
It does. I picked it because I have what you might call an “East Coast” personality, even though I grew up in Washington. I’m very straightforward and assertive, which in real life can hard for people in Seattle to deal with. I work in customer service, where this can be difficult, but in Derby it’s appreciated. They love my attitude—it’s very accepting.
You’re a waitress at the Hopvine on 15th Avenue East. Do your customers and colleagues know about your alter ego as Tara Hoedown?
A lot of the regulars know, and they ask me about Derby all the time. Several of my coworkers, and a few of the customers, have come out to the bouts. Everyone’s been really supportive.
How did you get involved with the new “banked track” league, as opposed to the flat track teams?
For one thing, I had a friend on the league. Also, the general attitude on the league is different from others in the area. It’s a newer, smaller league, so they’re willing to nurture new skaters and take time to teach the skills you need. With the more established leagues, you need a higher skill level to even get on the team.
What are the main differences between the banked, versus flat-tracked style of play?
The strategies are totally different. On the flat track, you can skate backwards—their strategy relies on that. But on a banked track, there’s no skating backwards. Gravity interferes.
So, like sharks and relationships (to paraphrase Woody Allen), you always have to be moving forward?
Yeah, it’s a very forward game. Always going forward. That, and we use gravity and centripetal force in a way that they don’t on a flat track.
Gravity, it seems, can also have its downsides…
And I have the bruises to prove it.
What’s the worst injury you’ve had on the track?
In August, I broke my ankle. But I was back skating seven weeks later, which is one of the fastest recovery times. Worse than that, was the time I got a concussion. I don’t like concussions.
It doesn’t sound nearly as fun as a broken ankle.
Actually, when I broke my ankle, all I could do was laugh. All the adrenaline was rushing through me, it didn’t hurt until I got to the hospital. I also have a pretty permanent case of rail burn and rink rash.
Ouch. How does your family feel about your Derby career?
My grandfather has never been more proud of me! He remembers Derby from the 70s, so he can relate. My mom thinks it’s awesome. At first, my dad wasn’t very enthused; he was worried about the safety issues. But now he’s fine with it.
Is there a team— or rival Roller Girl—that you consider to be your “arch-nemesis?”
My arch-nemesis is Barbie Beatdown, on Rolling Blackouts. They’re our sister team, but also rivals.
From what I’ve heard, Derby is a very all-encompassing pastime. How much time each week would you say you devote to the sport?
In total, more than 20 hours a week. About 6-8 of that is spent skating, but I’m also an administrator for the league, and volunteer as a bout director. On top of that, there’s team bonding, strategy sessions, etc. It pretty much takes up all my time.
Perhaps because of the fun and sexy costumes—or, arguably, the vagina-having of all the players—there are still people who think Roller Derby isn’t a “real” sport; that it’s something akin to pro wrestling. How do you convince the haters?
We do a lot to combat that stereotype. In the ‘70 s it was more of a spectacle, but today it’s very much a real, and very competitive sport. Until people see a bout for themselves, they don’t realize how much strategy, skill and endurance is involved in the game. And when there are injuries, they’re definitely NOT just for show.
How, if at all, do you feel like you’ve changed as a result of being in Roller Derby?
For one, it’s changed my body image and improved my self-esteem. As a woman, I appreciate having big muscles and a more robust body. Women are taught to feel bad about their bodies, or, at best, to be indifferent. Derby encourages women to be proud of their strength. It combats female stereotypes on all levels.
Do you have any advice for anyone who’s toying with the idea of becoming a Roller Girl?
I would encourage them to check out the group called PFM, or “Potential Fresh Meat.” That’s where I started. They teach you all the basic skills. From there, just skate as much as possible. Don’t get discouraged. Some people immediately pick it up, but for me it took time took a lot of falling, a lot of frustration… You just have to keep at it.
Where can we go to see one of your bouts?
The next one is The Battle of the Bank, at the Comcast Arena in Everett, June 1-3. This is the National Championship featuring leagues from all around the country, so it’s going to be really exciting.
Anything else you’d like readers to know?
Our league is a nonprofit, and it’s run by the skaters and other volunteers, so it’s truly a community effort. With a relatively new league and a different version of the sport, our challenge is to find supporters and build a strong fan base. So, when you come out to support us, you’re supporting your local community.