Heavenly Hell on Wheels: The Hudson Valley Horrors
Woe to the person who attends a Hudson Valley Horrors bout thinking that women’s roller derby is just a bunch of babes in skates pushing each other around. Over the course of roller derby’s nearly one hundred-year history, it’s gained a reputation for blending campy spectacle with full-contact sports. But while today’s players may pair fishnets with mouthguards, one look at a flock of Horrors hip-checking and speed-skating their way around the rink leaves no doubt that derby is a realm of hardcore competitors.
“I think a lot of people strictly perceive us to be just cute girls,” says the Horrors’ Amy Renee Rotgers, who goes by the derby name Puffy Bangs. “But the truth is, we really train and work as athletes.”
Founded in 2006 by Jeshrun “Rxy Ramalotte” Nickerson, the Horrors hold the distinction of being the world’s first non-urban, flat-track women’s roller derby league. During the long season that lasts from February through November, the Horrors rely on both brains and brawn in a sport that’s easily as strategic and physically demanding as football or hockey. Each week, players clock in eight hours of skating practice at Dutchess County’s Hyde Park Roller Magic in addition to mandatory workout regimens off the rink. “Being really strong physically helps you to play the sport at that advanced level,” Rotgers says. “If you’re not in top shape, you can’t take those hits without getting hurt.”
Of course, even with rigorous training and plenty of helmets and kneepads, injuries still happen. The Horrors bear their sprained wrists, broken ankles, and ample bruises as derby badges of honor.
Not only are the Horrors fiercely committed to their sport, they’re also invested in using derby’s empowering, feminist creed to benefit their community. Chief among their community outreach programs is the Junior League, a year-round derby team for girls ages nine to 17. The Horrors say that derby’s emphasis on self-acceptance and teamwork can offer a lifeline to girls navigating the often-choppy waters of pre-teenhood and adolescence.
“It’s a very tender age for young girls,” says Rotgers. “They can be extremely uncomfortable with their bodies, and there are a lot of social issues. What we offer is a safe place where young girls of varying shapes and sizes and varied personalities can come together and do something that makes them feel good about themselves.” The league even has an on-staff counselor, Kristin Parise, attend every practice.
The Horrors’ other community service initiatives run the gamut from charitable benefits like December’s Derby Whips Cancer — which raised $3,000 for the Brittany Miller Foundation, a pediatric cancer fund — to events like Kingston’s Annual Soapbox Derby. Fans can rub shoulders with their favorite players at the Horrors’ annual pancake breakfast on April 6. And those more interested in watching players throw elbows can root for the home team at their next game on March 23 at Hyde Park Roller Magic.
Given derby’s extensive subculture, it’s no surprise that many Horrors players eat, breathe, and sleep the game. Katrina “Pin-Up Ghoul” Pulichene notes that most of her best friends are fellow skaters. It’s not just the long practices and road trips to meets that bind the Horrors together. The challenging nature of the sport means that players get to see each other at their best (slinging fellow skaters forward to score more points in a move called ‘the whip’) and worst (grinding their teeth in the penalty box). “You get to have an intuitive sense about each other,” Pulichene says.
Danielle “Pinky Swears” Correia, the Horrors’ president, says the benefits of belonging to the team extend far beyond the rink. Players have the chance to learn skills from event-planning to fundraising to management. “You can really take on any role,” Correia says. “You can learn how to do a skill that you may not be able to do in your day job, but that you always wanted to do.” Correia herself is a digital marketing strategist by day. After hours, when she’s not strapped into a pair of skates, she’s an active member of the leagues’ board of directors.
Perhaps the best testament to the monumental difference roller derby has made in the Horrors’ lives is the way their training transforms even humdrum activities into competitive sports. In supermarkets, players report that they often have to stifle the impulse to barrel down the aisle and cut around the person pushing a grocery cart in front of them.
“Our bodies are so trained to deal with obstacles,” says Marcy “Whiskey Lullaby” Langstein. “I commute to work in New York, so I’m forever on the train, and I literally hip-check and shoulder-check people on the subway.” Her hip-checks may be instinctive, but they’re representative of the confidence with which the Horrors move through their lives. If bystanders don’t fall in line with these gutsy, assertive women, they had better get out of their way. —Sarah Todd
Photos courtesy of Kelly Marsh Photography and Jennifer Stiles.
Hudson Valley Horrors Roller Derby
Home bouts take place at Hyde Park Roller Magic
4178 Albany Post Rd
Hyde Park, NY 12538
Doors open at 6 p.m., beating begins at 7 p.m.
For tickets to the Saturday, March 23 bout, click here.
For season schedule, click here.
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