When MedCity Mafia captain Danielle Riehl takes the rink Saturday for a bout at Graham Arena, she probably understands better than most just how far the women’s roller derby team has come over the years.
Riehl, whose derby nickname is Spaztik Pepper, was with the team nearly at the beginning, when it was a mere collection of uncoordinated roller skaters. “Bambi on skates” is how one player describes the skill level. Four years later, MedCity is no longer a rookie team but a sanctioned member of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, the sport’s governing body.
The 26-member team is more strategic and skilled in its play. Bouts regularly draw more than 500 people. And those old misconceptions that once plagued the sport are a thing of the past — or nearly so.
“The most common one is that people are throwing elbows and punching girls,” Riehl says. “That’s not what it is. I mean, throwing an elbow will get (you) into the penalty box.”
Those still in need of a little enlightenment will be able to watch MedCity in a 7 p.m. bout against the St. Cloud SCAR Dolls on Saturday, May 28, at Graham Arena.
To say that roller derby isn’t gratuitously violent is not to say that it isn’t a physical contact sport. A laundry list of injuries over the years would include bruises, cracked ribs, sprained and broken ankles. But all that pales beside the sport’s enduring appeal, players say. Roller derby is just plain fun, as evidenced by the fact the sport has more than 1,000 amateur leagues on every inhabited continent.
“It’s just everything. It hits on the physical aspect. It’s on skates and it’s learning new skills,” says Angie “Knock Knock Knuckles” Herron.
What else can explain the appeal of a sport that brings together women from all walks of life? Players include restaurant servers, nurses, chemistry professors, pre-school and high school teachers, and an editor.
Riehl works as a supervisor in a group home for people with disabilities. But when she is competing, her demeanor and look makes her nearly unrecognizable. In addition to helmet and mouth guard, elbow and knee pads, Riehl also paints her face with darkened raccoon-looking eyes and stitches painted across her mouth.
“I try to look a little bit intimidating,” Riehl says.
For those unfamiliar with the rules, each roller derby team picks a scoring player called a jammer, who scores points by lapping members of the opposing team. The teams attempt to assist their jammer to score points while blocking the opposing jammer.
“It’s definitely a different type of event than most you would see around here,” Riehl says.
Having become a sanctioned team, the 2-1 Mafia have set their eyes on more than just more victories. They hope to expand and have two teams playing in Rochester one day. Landing a few sponsorships would help defray travel and hotel costs. As for her own personal goals, Riehl doesn’t see imminent retirement in her plans.
“I got another 10 years if my body doesn’t tell me different,” says Riehl.
If you go
What: MedCity Mafia takes on St. Cloud SCAR Dolls
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, May 28. Doors open at 6 p.m.
Where: Graham Arena
Tickets: $10 in advance, $12 at the door, $7/8 for seniors and kids 6-12, 5 and under are free. Presale tickets can be purchased through the Wicked Moose or from a team member