Fort Collins Roller Derby turns 10, embraces town’s beer culture
By Steve Graham
When your roller derby league turns 10, how do you celebrate?
With a beer — or, more to the point, with an embrace of the craft beer culture that has taken over your college town in the so-called Napa Valley of beer.
There is no mistaking that Fort Collins circa 2016 is all about beer and bikes. So it makes sense that FoCo Roller Derby is also beer-obsessed, even if these athletes roll on eight wheels instead of two.
The league motto is Brew Victory, and the new recruit program is called Fresh Hops. The secondary travel team is the Punchy Brewsters and the all-star travel team is the Micro-Bruisers. Pateros Creek Brewery in Fort Collins even crafted the Micro Bruisers Ale in their honor.
The league launched in 2006 as FoCo Girls Gone Derby, but the skaters got tired of being confused with a certain lurid video series, so they replaced the “Girls Gone” portion of the name. League members complain there are already enough stereotypes about roller derby.
“We’re not just fishnets and beating each other up,” said Amy Moore, who skates as Dead Zeppelin. “You do take hits. It is a contact sport, but no one is out to hurt another skater. It’s just like another sport and we work hard and sometimes we look hot doing it.”
Five-member teams compete in hour-long derby bouts on a flat track. Each bout is divided into shorter jams. One player, known as the jammer, tries to lap each of the other team’s skaters, who all try to block her while supporting and protecting their own jammer.
Tracy Bjick, who skates as 98 Pounds of Steel (or simply Pounder), is a mountain biker and motocross racer who appreciates the challenge of each bout.
“Derby requires athleticism, team work, resilience and tenacity,” she said. “Those with violent tendencies never make it in derby. Those bad attitudes put them in the penalty box and make them bad teammates. This sport is all about community and working together towards a common goal.”
Jams can get aggressive and physical, but Colleen Elliott said she likes to drink with the opposing team after a bout.
“Definitely people will be competitive on the track, but as soon as the last whistle blows, you will go over and help someone up,” she said. “Everybody wants to win but they are not willing to be so competitive to forget that we are all human.”
Elliott is a non-skating official in the league, which means she keeps score, tracks penalties and maintains stats for the team. And she still gets a cool derby nickname — Danger A-Go-Go.
She started skating in the derby league in 2013, but “my knees couldn’t hack it,” she said.
However, she said derby is a great sport for women.
“It’s a wonderful community of women who empower each other to try to do their best,” she said, adding that it is a global community that offers instant camaraderie. “I love the community and you can go anywhere in the world and you will find a derby league nearby.”
There are at least 1,250 global derby leagues, according to the Wall Street Journal, up from 50 when the Fort Collins league launched in 2006.
The league has 40 active members, and Colorado hosts at least 10 roller derby leagues, including the championship-level Denver Roller Derby and other leagues from Pueblo to Glenwood Springs.
The Fort Collins league has plenty of edgy women in tattoos, fishnets and dyed hair. But roller derby also attracts plenty of other athletes, including runners and hockey players looking for another sport.
So next time you are touring Fort Collins breweries, don’t forget to stop to watch some roller derby on the way.
Steve Graham is a Fort Collins writer who enjoys the outdoors and great beer.
Who are these rockin’ and rollin’ derby athletes?
Dead Zeppelin (Dead for short)
Civilian name: Amy Moore
Occupation: Customer service sales representative
Hobbies: Derby, movies, concerts, activities with my boyfriend and dog
Years in derby: Four
Why I love roller derby: I love derby because it’s an empowering sport to play. I had never been active before so when I started derby it was really hard but it pushed me beyond what I thought my limits were and gave me a sense of worth I never had before. All my teammates are an amazing support system and really care about each other. I also love that it’s for anyone, it doesn’t matter where you work, how many kids you have, if you can even skate – you can be a derby player.
Favorite way to unwind after a bout: Going to the after-party and taking shots. Bonus: No one cares how you smell since they all smell just as bad.
Favorite Colorado beer (or spirit): I’m not much of a beer drinker but I will drink some whiskey. I like Breckenridge bourbon whiskey, but I can’t wait to try Old Elk Distillery. The headquarters is in the building I work in so I’m hoping for some free samples.
98 Pounds of Steel, aka "Pounder"
Civilian name: Tracey Bjick
Occupation: Technical project manager
Hobbies: I ride bikes, park skate, and have a huge garden. I’ve raced motocross and trail ride dirt bikes. I spend as much time or more on my mountain bike, and ride the street bike to work each day. I’m not one to sit still.
Years in derby: Five
Why I love roller derby: It’s part of the work-life balance that can be so hard to achieve. Derby fills a void like a silver bullet. Practicing and playing derby allows me to spend time with friends, get exercise, relieve stress, and otherwise stay out of trouble.
Favorite way to unwind after a bout: Beers with teammates and opponents alike.
Favorite Colorado beer (or spirit): I love me a good 5 Barrel from Odell’s but have recently taken a new favorite — Stem Cider’s “Remedy” out of Denver. It’s amazing.