Last May was a busy month for Kate Proulx. A communications design senior at Parsons, she finished her senior thesis,
polished her portfolio, graduated from college, found a job, and competed in her first roller derby game under the name Bimbo Slice.
A year later, Proulx joined Gotham Girls Roller Derby (GGRD), an NYC-based flat-track roller derby league that is currently ranked third in the nation. Since joining the team, Slice has balanced skating for both CT Rollergirls’ Yankee Brutals (CTRG) and GGRD’s Manhattan Mayhem team and being the youngest visual designer at the top digital media firm HUGE.
GGRD is made up of four borough teams — Manhattan Mayhem, Bronx Gridlock, Queens of Pain, and Brooklyn Bombshells — that play each other from March to November. GGRD also has three competitive teams that play teams from other leagues.
Flat track roller derby is played indoors on a flat surface. Each “bout,” or game, is split into two 30-minute parts. In each half are two-minute “jams” followed by 30-second breaks. During jams, eight players — the blockers — skate in a pack, while two “jammers,” distinguished by large stars on their helmets, attempt to skate through the pack. After the first time through, jammers earn one point for each blocker they pass. Elbows, tripping, back-blocking and skating out of bounds earns players a penalty, and seven penalties knocks one out of the game. The team with the highest total points wins the bout.
Fred Perrywinkle, Slice’s ex-boyfriend’s roommate, who is a referee and coach for CTRG, introduced her to roller derby. He invited her to watch the Yankee Brutals skate in 2009. Try-outs for the Brutals were that November, so Slice borrowed a pair of skates, practiced in her local high school’s parking lot.
“What I’ve come to love about [roller derby] is that a girl of any shape or size can find her niche in the game,” Slice wrote on her blog, “Faux Beaux,” in May 2010.
Slice now resides in Brooklyn, but was living in Fairfield, Connecticut and commuting to Parsons while skating for CTRG. She would leave Fairfield at 7 a.m., have class until 3 p.m., take the train back to Connecticut, and drive to practice, which ended around 10:30 — 11 p.m.
But it wasn’t difficult for her to meet the commitment. “To me, derby was and still is a very important part of my routine to blow off steam, clear my mind, and have some fun,” she said.
Roller derby began as a long-distance sport in 1935, but fizzled out by the ‘70s due to expenses. In 2001, a revival began in Austin, Texas. In 2003, a group of 10 girls taught themselves how to skate on the pavement under the Manhattan Bridge, and formed GGRD. A year later, the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, which brought all existing leagues under one association, was formed. Today, 105 leagues from the U.S., U.K. and Canada are members.
Slice would often watch GGRD games online before joining the league. “They are on a higher level of play than Connecticut, so a lot of us liked to look to them for inspiration, to watch their playing style and strategies,” she said.
Knowing she would move to New York for work, Slice visited several GGRD practices, participated in a roller derby boot camp, and tried out in November 2010. Over 100 girls tried out, and after three months of cuts, 11 girls — including Slice — made GGRD.
“There is absolutely no way I would have made Gotham without having a season of CTRG under my belt,” she said.
Many skaters have unexpected day jobs. Arson Tina of Bronx Gridlock holds a PhD. in molecular biology, while Queens of Pain’s Puss ‘n Glutes works as a pediatric ICU nurse. Others, however, like Bonnie Thunders and OMG WTF, who operate Five Stride Skate Shop, hold jobs related to roller derby. Roller derby girls are known for their colorful, skimpy uniforms and novelty names. Slice dons Manhattan Mayhem’s orange prison uniform-like outfit for bouts. The names play off famous phrases and people. “Bimbo Slice” is a twist on Kimbo Slice, a mixed martial artist and actor known for knocking someone out in one hit. “Your derby name becomes you,” Slice said.
Slice feels lucky her job is supportive of her skating. “I don’t have to stay in the ‘derby closet’ — nearly everyone [at HUGE] knows that I play derby and some of them even come out to games to cheer me on and show their support.”
However, skating has had a negative impact on her social life “Derby has strained at least one of my romantic relationships to the point of breaking things off,” she said, “and has been a reason for me to miss out on some fun stuff going on with my friends.”
Manhattan Mayhem has not been GGRD’s league champion yet, but Slice has high hopes for this season. “We have a lot of talent and a lot of wild card players on our team,” she said. “I believe we have the ability to make it to the championships if we work hard and play smart.”
This appeared in the May 4, 2011 issue of The New School Free Press. Photo by Courtney Stack.