Kannapolis Roller Girls bring back retro sport

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 29, 2011

By Sarah Campbell
KANNAPOLIS — Four months ago, Nikki Burris couldn’t even stand up in a pair of roller skates.
“Anytime that I would try to take off I was on the ground, flat on my behind” she said with a laugh.
Now, she glides around the rink at Skateland USA with ease, pushing her way past teammates and rarely hitting the hardwood floor.
Burris’ transformation from falling Bambi to cruising lady started when she joined the Kannapolis Rollergirls in September.
“I was scared to death when I first started, I fell so many times,” she said. “But everybody kept pushing me and telling me I was doing good.”
Burris, who lives in Kannapolis, said that encouragement translated into a newfound confidence on wheels.
“The thing I like most about derby is being part of a team,” she said. “I love being out here with these girls.”
Nicole Cooper of Concord is used to being part of a team, she’s been playing recreational ice hockey for the past 15 years. That’s why she jumped at the opportunity to join the Kannapolis roller derby team.
“I really enjoy the camaraderie of the team,” she said. “A lot of it is very similar to ice hockey where you’re knocking people out of the way trying to get through.
“I really enjoy it, it’s a lot of fun.”
At times the Kannapolis Rollergirls look more like a group of sisters than teammates.
During water breaks, they chat and laugh. And when its time to get back down to business, they shout out encouraging words as they circle the rink taking turns weaving around each other in a test of agility.
Who does derby?
The amateur roller derby team is open to all women. The only requirement to join is equipment including a helmet, knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards and a mouth guard. Skates are also a must have, but they can be rented.
“Any girl can do roller derby, all you have to be able to do is skate, we teach them everything else,” Steven Womble, founder and president of Kannapolis Rollergirls, said. “And some girls can barely skate so we teach them that too.”
Womble said the team, which practices from 7 to 8:30 p.m. every Wednesday at Skateland USA, is looking for new members. And women of any age, size, skill set and personality are welcome.
“(Roller derby) is kind of like football in the sense that there is a spot for every person,” Womble said. “The smallest girl will be fast and the bigger girls can hit harder, so there is really no limit.”
Womble said the Kannapolis Rollergirls has grown by at least 10 members since the team started up in July. He said it’s one of the fastest growing women’s sports in the country, making a resurgence in popularity.
The team has yet to participate in any competitions, but Womble said he’s hoping the women will be ready in a couple of months.
What it’s like
When some people hear the words roller derby they might immediately picture women viciously knocking each other down. But that isn’t the typical scene.
Billy Burris, coach of the Kannapolis Rollergirls, said a strict set of rules prevent injuries.
That means no elbowing, pushing or tripping opponents.
“It’s actually a pretty safe sport,” he said.
But that doesn’t mean the falls don’t hurt.
“I think it hurts a lot more to fall out here than in ice hockey because you have a whole lot more equipment to protect you in ice hockey,” Cooper said.
Leila Faries of Salisbury said she enjoys the athleticism of derby.
“I’m getting older so I need more exercise,” she said. “And it’s really a lot safer than people think, I know my parents are worried about me being 40 and my insurance coverage, but as long as you pad up it’s fine.”
After the women are done strapping on their padding and lacing up their skates, they hit the rink for laps.
Ten laps grows to 30 before leaping to 50.
“It’s nonstop skating,” Faries said. “I brought a newbie with me … and she didn’t understand how soaking wet she would be.”
But Faries said it’s more than skating round and round, it’s about technique.
“It’s a lot of core exercise,” she said. “When you hit the ground you need to be able to get up without your hands and use your core.”
Unlike Nikki Burris, Faries came in knowing how to skate. She’s been on four wheels since the age of five.
“I grew up in this skating rink, I came here every Friday and Saturday night,” she said.
During her first practice last week, Maria Escobar said she was surprised at just how physical roller derby can be.
“It thought it was going to be easy just skating around in circles,” she said. “But now that I’m here I realize that it’s so much more.”
But that won’t keep Escobar away.
“I like the idea of learning something new,” she said. “I’ll stick with it because of the challenge.”
Great escape
By day, Nikki Burris works as a nurse on a critical care unit. A job that she says can be taxing at times.
“I love my job, but it can be a challenge,’ she said. “It’s very high stress.”
Burris said she can let out that tension during derby practice on Wednesdays.
“You would think this is high stress, but this is actually my stress relief,” she said. “Being able to get out there and get down with my girls is awesome.”
Cooper can relate. She commutes at least an hour one way to her job as a process engineering manager in Mount Holly.
“I fight I-85 traffic every day coming home so this is an important thing for me to do to get rid of stress and get some exercise,” she said.
Faries bring roller derby into her workplace. As the owner of Cut Up & Dye Funky Full Service Salon, she’s been recruiting clients and employees to join the fun.
Some of the her recruits, like Escobar, have stuck. Others came to one practice and haven’t come back since.
“Some people love rumba, some people love lifting weights and some people love roller derby,” she said. “I think it’s either a love or hate thing because you can explain it to them but they don’t really know what it’s like until they get here.”
For more information about the Kannapolis Rollergirls visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/KannapolisRollergirls.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.
Twitter: twitter.com/posteducation
Facebook: facebook.com/Sarah.SalisburyPost