The Bunker, a beloved warehouse-turned-practice space for the Pioneer Valley Roller Derby League, fills with cheers as two jammers race across the track. Audience members sitting in what is known as the "Crash Zone" make themselves as small as possible as the pack, a mass of muscular women strategically hip-checking and throwing blows at each other, passes only feet away. The jammers fight against the clock as they push past each other and slam into the wall of people separating them from the points needed to win the game. One person falls and half the pack follows, creating the derby version of a six car pileup as the other skaters try to maneuver around. The Bunker explodes with celebration as Western Mass Destruction's jammer breaks through the pack and scores the winning points of the game.
This is the scene from PVRD's April 2nd Roller Derby Bout. PVRD's 10th Anniversary Season Opener kicked off with the league's own WMD (Western Mass Destruction) competing with Strong Island Derby Revolution's The Revolution. The teams locked horns in an incredibly close match, with Western Mass Destruction eventually taking the gold. The crowds enjoyed the match in an especially prepared-with-love Bunker all decked out with lights, a bake sale, and an expansive merchandise table selling everything from t-shirts to patches.
However, attending a bout is only a small look into the life of a skater. Derby Junkies meet several times a week for practices spanning hours to strategize, strengthen, and repeatedly fall as they build themselves and each other up. A bout allows an audience to see the blows and the bruising, but it is often easy to overlook the moments that reflect the bonds, intimacy, and strength of loyalty between bout-members. Western Mass Destruction is a fun, accepting, and loving family whose reunions involved as much hitting and tripping as cracking jokes and supporting each other.
Teammates warm up together, block for each other, and pep each other up between each jam (whether by huddling together or teasing the announcers). The power of a camera allows us to capture and really notice the small moments of love between skaters, and the literal as well as emotional ways they extend themselves out to support each other.
To score points, each team must have a jammer. The jammer does not have to stick with the pack, and instead sprints ahead to complete as many laps as possible in the allotted time (points are scored every time a jammer passes by the member of another team). Although they always have their team by them facilitating their passage, many jammers must often face the track alone.
Jammer Bratmobile recovers from a fall, jumping immediately back up and into the game.
Punches signals to the referees to call off the jam.
Bella laBrawl takes a sharp turn on her way to scoring points.
The only way to handle a fall is to get up and go a little faster and a little harder.
Both falling and contact are important aspects of the sport--bruises are worn proudly--and skaters express no mercy as they collide (although they do often laugh it off together in between matches). Comparing the moments before and after a takedown only emphasizes how intense bouts can be when you're on the track.
If PVRD teaches its skaters anything, its that every time you fall your only objective is to ignore the blossoming bruises and get right back up.