Sunday, October 12, 2008

Salt City Derby Girls

These portraits are part of a project on four women from Ogden who skate for the Salt City Derby Girls roller derby league in Salt Lake City. I also shot a video, which is on my website. VIDEO

Jilyon Keesler, 22, is a jammer known as LEZ ZEPPLIN for the Leave It to Cleavers roller derby team in Salt Lake City. Keesler said derby is a much more athletic sport than in the past and requires strength, quick thinking and good balance. She had never been on skates before joining.

Elizabeth Payne, 26, is a mild-mannered paralegal and works at a boys' group home on the weekends. On the roller derby track, however, she is DR. PAIN and skates for the Sisters of No Mercy, whose team motto is: "The beatings will continue until morale improves." Derby lets her have a persona with bravado, one who is loud and loves to skate around knocking people over.

Sahna Foley, 30, aka MISS DISCO BLISS, thought she broke her jaw during a Salt City Shakers all-star roller derby bout against the Rocky Mountain Rollergirls. She escaped serious injury and has otherwise been lucky in her years as a derby girl for the Leave It to Cleavers team. Derby has given Foley confidence and made her a risk taker, in a good way. "Now I feel like I can go out and do whatever I want without hesitating."

Robbi Davis, 30, picked the roller derby name LADY OCTANE because she is a fast skater. She joined the Salt City Derby Girls league when it formed three years ago as a way to help herself stay clean from methamphetamine addiction. She is now the captain of the Death Dealers and credits roller derby and the friends she's made for her success.

Dr. Pain, decked out in a yellow Salt City Shakers tank, short black skirt, fishnet stockings and gold helmet, nudges Jolly Mean Giant, of the Sin City Roller-girls, as she tries to skate past on the outer edge of the rink.

The Giant goes flying into the jubilant crowd at the Salt Palace.

This is roller derby.

When Dr. Pain, also known as Elizabeth Payne, was growing up in Magna, she and her sister shared one pair of roller skates. The girls each put on one skate, climbed the hill of their dead-end street and rolled down on one foot.

"I think that's kind of why I learned really good balance on skates. I learned how to skate with one foot, not two," Payne said.

Payne, 26, now an Ogden resident, also attributes her skills as a Salt City Derby Girl to pillow sumo wrestling as a child with her big brother, John.

"I got used to being hit head-on and not falling over."

Utah's first all-female, flat-track roller derby league,City Derby Girls, formed in 2005. There are four teams and more than 60 members.

The league is run by the participants, who buy their own equipment, recruit, pay monthly dues and participate in community events.

After graduating from college, Payne was spending too much time watching television and decided she needed a new hobby.

She likes snowboarding and bicycling and anything with that "slightly out-of-control feeling," so derby appealed to her.

"I said, 'Skating around and knocking people over -- I might be able to do that.' So I went and I tried it, and I
loved it."

Payne goes by Dr. Pain on the track and skates for the Sisters of No Mercy.

"The beatings will continue until morale improves" is the team's motto.

"It's been really fun to be able to have kind of a different persona. In doing this interview, I was a little nervous. I was like, 'I don't know if I want everyone to see what I do on the weekends,' because it's fun and different, but this isn't a side of my personality that is seen all the time," Payne said.

"I'm kind of professional in my daily life, and I don't always wear fishnets to work. So it's kind of fun to be able to wear fishnets and to be loud and to have that bravado that's not in context in the rest of my life."

The Sisters of No Mercy met the Leave It to Cleavers in a bout in June.

Sahna Foley, 30, and Jilyon Keesler, 22, both of Ogden, play for the Cleavers. The two go by Miss Disco Bliss and Lez Zepplin, respectively.

Roller derby began underground in Salt Lake City and has increased in popularity over the past few years. It is still a little too edgy for the mainstream, Foley said, but short skirts and fishnets are part of the culture and the tradition.

"You still got to have that silly factor to it ... that also lets all the women express their own individuality. It's fun to go out there and dress up in a cute outfit and skate around and beat the crap out of each other," she said.

Robbi Davis, aka Lady Octane, 30, of Ogden, said roller derby brings in a diverse crowd. Even families with children show up.

"I think we keep it very clean and tasteful. I have many children come up to me, and I like to think of myself as a role model for them," she said.

Most derby girls say the sport requires much more strength and skill than past incarnations, which were more for entertainment.

"Roller derby's coming back," said Keesler, who discovered the sport two years ago at the gay pride festival in Salt Lake City.

"I think that if people just come out and see the game, they'd be really impressed. It's kind of gone from a WCW (World Championship Wrestling)-type acting and a fake-type sport to being an actual real sport. It's a lot more athletic than it used to be."

Keesler, who is a line-clearance arborist and works with a contractor for a power company, had never been on skates before she started roller derby.

"I remember the first time ... got a pair of rental skates, threw them on, and I couldn't stay on my feet. I got really discouraged, and I thought for a second that this isn't for me, I can't do it," she said.

"But once you get your own pair of skates, there is a big learning curve, and you just take off from there."

Derby can be dangerous. Bumps and bruises are guaranteed.

"Knee injuries across the board, but those are just to be expected," Foley said.

She thought she broke her jaw playing with the Salt City Shakers all-star team against the Rocky Mountain Rollergirls.

"I just got smacked really hard by a girl, and it spun me all the way around. I heard my jaw just pop and just go all the way to one side," she said.

"That's probably the closest I've ever come to crying while in derby."

Davis is the captain of the Death Dealers and grew up skating at the Classic in Riverdale. She works as an administrative assistant and barista by day.

She trains her girls how to hit and fall properly, but hasn't always been lucky herself.

"My first season, I was out with a torn MCL," she said, blaming a weird fall that injured her knee.

Davis picked Lady Octane as her track name because she is a fast skater and wanted a slightly less burly persona, but she is very competitive.

"I have my moments, too, on track, where I can be a monster," she said.

The most common "least favorite thing" for the Ogden girls is the time commitment and drive to Salt Lake City. Being a derby girl requires working at bouts when not actually playing, and volunteering for community events. Teams practice two or three times a week.

"It's necessary, really, to have the cohesiveness to be able to play as a team," said Payne, who is a paralegal during the week and works at a boys' group home on the weekends.

"I'm not home very often, but I'm always doing things that I enjoy."

Roller derby is life-changing for some. Without it, Foley is not sure what she would be doing right now.

"I was stuck at a dead-end job that was depressing, and I really felt like I had no individualism in my marriage or anything like that," she said.

"So it's actually made me a lot more confident and my self-esteem has gone up. I'm more of a risk-taker now, in good ways. This is the part that I really just can't say enough about, because I feel like I've grown so much as a woman and a person.

"I just feel like I owe so much to derby and all the girls on the league that I've gotten to know. Now I feel like I can go out and do whatever I want without hesitating."

Foley owns a boxing and mixed martial arts gym with her husband and recently got into acting.

Five years ago, Davis was involved with methamphetamine addiction and found derby as a way to help her break free from the lifestyle.

"When you get clean and you go through treatment, they tell you you have to change everything, and I think for some that's the hardest part. You have all your people, the people you've grown up with or used dope with for years and years and years, and it's hard to separate yourself from that."

Davis said derby replaced some things, in a sense, and gave her a whole different group of women to hang out with.

"Roller derby has been a huge tool in my success, in my clean time. It was December of '04 when I got clean, and I'm still clean today, and I have roller derby to thank for that and the friendships I've made.

"It's been amazing, you know. Amazing."