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Roller Derby: Cute Nickname, Tough Attitude

Tallie Johnson |
November 21, 2011 | 9:55 a.m. PST

Executive Producer

Sweat pierced down her two blond, braided pigtails that cascaded across her shoulders. Her arms were filled with bright-colored tattoos. She paused briefly before she caught her breath and cracked a bright smile.

With an infectious laugh, and outgoing demeanor, she is known for her bubbly personality.

She wore a helmet, kneepads, elbow pads, wrist guards and a mouth guard. Once on the court, the sweet smile faded away. She became focused, attentive, aggressive and a fighter.  She blocked for her team with self-assuredness. She took rough hits and collapsed to the ground and got up as if it was a tap on the shoulder. This duality has earned her the nickname ‘BubbleVicous.’

Stephanie Shaw plays roller derby.

 Tallie Johnson)
Tallie Johnson)

Part of the Angel City Derby Girls in Los Angeles, she is one of about 65 members.

Nicknames play a vital element in the sport. Everyone who plays is either given one or has one. “It’s like your split personality. It’s kind of like your government name during the day and at night you turn derby girl,” said Shaw.  Her name was given to her during a beach skate. She jumped effortless over a skateboard that flew over a young kid without hitting anyone and landed perfectly. Her excitement caused her to jump up and down when she fell, and burst out laughing. 

Her number is "1 up." She explained it is from Super Mario Brothers. She instantly started bobbing her head and singing the classic tune from the once popular game. Only her own snickering of amusement stops her from singing. 

Shaw became hooked after her friend dragged her to watch a game. Shaw had visions of original players from the 60s and 70s still playing today. Her eyes lit up and her voice quickened when she remembered her first time finally watching a roller derby game. “I saw girls my size and my age just kicking major butt and I was like 'Oh my God, I have to try this,'” said Shaw.

The games were extremely popular in the late 60s and 70s when they were broadcasted on television. The game is picking up popularity again with a women’s World Cup this year in Toronto. Athleticism, strategy, and good competition bring out fans and supporters of the game.

The game is played with two teams each having five people on the track at once. The five people on the track consist of a jammer, a pivot, and three blockers. The jammer’s job is to surpass the rest of the players to score points. The blockers job is to stop the other team's jammer from getting through and helping their team jammer stay in the lead. The pivot is a blocker that is allowed to become a jammer during the play. The jammer is indicated on the track with a star cover over their helmet, and a striped cover indicates the pivot. The blocker’s job is to protect their jammer while also stopping the other team from gaining points. If a blocker is too violent or rough, they will receive penalties and will be sent to the penalty box.

Each bout is an hour total. There are two 30-minute halves. The game is divided into “jams,” which are two minutes each. This is when the jammer is set up and the blocker is in place and points can be scored.

“So basically you're sprinting, you're hitting, you're bleeding, you're sweating, you're screaming,” said Shaw as she broke down the basics of the game.

When Shaw first told her mom she was going to play her mom was delighted. “I was really excited. I was so excited because it started to bring back memories when I used to watch it as a teenager, and we loved roller derby,” said Shaw’s Mother, Vicky Guglielmo.

Guglielmo was not surprised. Since growing up in San Pedro, Shaw was always athletic. Shaw played soccer since she was 5. She played softball and ran track in high school. “She was always so active in everything she did. She gives it her all; she was never the kid that just laid around, said Guglielmo.

“And my dad he just loves sports in general and he just backs me up like he did in soccer. So it’s just another sport to watch his daughter play in so he is always for it,” said Shaw.

To be a part of Angel City Derby Girls is not as simple as just filling out a form and showing up for practice. It takes dedication. Shaw has been working for nine months to be able to play. She started this year, in February, skating nearly every day. “If you are really good it takes about a year to get on a team. Not only do you have to be good, but also you have to know all the rules, how to be safe, know how to fall, how to hit. 'Cuz if you fall wrong, you’ll break a shoulder. Safety comes first, so it’s a slow process,” said Shaw.

The sport embraces female physicality, and injuries do happen. “Oh my God there are so many injuries! For me personally I’ve been injured a few times, but nothing too severe. Knock on wood,” said Shaw. But the thought of injury doesn’t seem to deter her from the enthusiasm of the sport as she nonchalantly spouts out what she has seen: “Last night at practice we had a girl blow her knee out right in front of us. I’ve seen a girl break her wrist, I’ve seen a girl break her collarbone, and her achilles tendon just exploded. I mean it’s very physical,” said Shaw.

This is why teams put such a great emphasis on training before actually playing the sport. During the season, Shaw practices five days a week, and coaches one day a week.  She coaches new recruits who have just put on skates for the first time. “I teach them basics, such as the 'derby stance,' which is the equivalent for squatting and getting low. Not only is that going to help prevent you from falling but to get you to have core muscles and leg strength, so when you finally get up to that level when you're able to be hit you are less susceptible to falling,” said Shaw.

Despite the roughness of the sport, the women on the team really enjoy playing and spending time with each other.  “[BubbleVicious] is crazy. She is very solid. She is fun. She sings randomly. She sings random things. She is really funny,” said teammate Pearl Neckslash.

Roller Derby takes up all Shaw’s free time. In addition to practices, they normally average 1-2 games per month.

She also works full-time 40 hours a week and goes to school at night. In her professional life, she is a service technician for heating air conditioning and is currently stationed at Cedars Sinai fixing air conditioners. College was not on her radar until she received a full-ride soccer scholarship to California State University, Sacramento. She studied mechanical electrical technology. She is currently in an apprenticeship program and is taking classes in numantics and electrical components to help her advance in the field. She speaks of the terminology of engineering just as easily as she does the rules of roller derby. She works with predominately men, so roller derby also gives her a time to bond with other women.

“I’m just so proud of her. I have to say I was impressed. The excitement watching her go around and just watching her enjoy herself was just so enjoyable. I think women have so much to offer and they can be tough and feminine,” said Guglielmo.

The athletic self-proclaimed tomboy loves this game. “I’m 27, I’m hoping I can play a good five years. I’m hoping. There are girls that are nationally ranked for the U.S. teams that are in there 30s and so I’m like that’s motivation. If they can be 38 and have two kids and be on the national team and be that good- why not me? I can do that too,” said Shaw.

The last home game of the season was played on November 19th in Culver City.

Shaw was in game-mode laughing in between breaks, but always ready once the whistle was blown. The game was played in front of a nearly packed house.  Shaw had a large group supporting her of family and friends.  To prep for the game she did her usual ritual.  “I’ll lay low and make sure that I carb up and load up with water the day before and of course you have to get all hyped up so I always listen to certain tracks. I listen to Slipknot and sometimes Systems of A Down,” said Shaw.


She giggles when realizing she still uses some of the same songs to get ready for a game that she did nearly 10 years ago.

Technician by day, roller derby by night.  More bubbly than vicious. How long will she continue this duality?

For Shaw it's simple: “As long as my body can last.”

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