TARPON SPRINGS — In Norse mythology, and inside Astro Skate roller skating rink in Tarpon Springs, it’s up to the Valkyries to decide which soldiers live or die in battle. Potential teammates for The Rolling Valkyries roller derby team were greeted by smiling hot pink lips and a sweet chorus of hellos Sunday morning. But when it came time to “jam” it was war cries, sweat and survival of the fittest.
The Valkyries are a traveling team of the first all-female, flat-track roller derby league in both Pinellas and Pasco Counties, formed in June 2012 and have only participated in one season of play. However, the team that includes mothers, doctors, teachers, nurses, scientist and farmers has already developed a reputation that would make the goddesses of war quiver. They are stylish and swift. They are cunning and fearless. Most importantly, they know how to take a hit on or off the rink.
The Valkyries held an open call for women, and a handful of tag-along husbands, interested in joining their Revolution Roller Derby league Sunday inside their sanctuary, the neon-pink skating rink complete with psychedelic alien murals and glittering disco balls. The team is always looking for “fresh meat” and even if they don’t join the competitive team many find other roles to fill in the league, said league founder and mother of four Rose “Dizzyboots” Frizzle. The league has attracted women from 18 to 56 years old, some with years of skating experience and others that start off as “wall huggers.” However, all share a common bond.
“I started when my daughter was five weeks old and it allowed me to still maintain my own identity outside of being a mother,” said team member and massage therapist Violet Offender. “This is my happy place. It doesn’t matter what you wear, it doesn’t matter how your hair looks, it’s OK to be you no matter your background or personality. We’re a team.”
Roller Derby has become one of the fastest growing women’s sports, as a generation of girls whose childhood weekends were spent at the skating rink grew into women looking for camaraderie beyond book clubs and PTA meetings. There is even talk of including the sport in the 2020 Olympics.
Many members of leagues throughout the state recognize each other by their created roller derby alter egos rather than their real names.
However, Roller Derby is much more than glitter, fishnets and hot shorts, Frizzle said. It takes a huge commitment to traveling across Florida for bouts and practices, as well as paying for equipment, travel and insurance in case of injury. Most team members travel 30 minutes to an hour every Sunday, Monday and Wednesday to attend practices, Frizzle said.
In addition to the competitive aspect of the sport, The Rolling Valkyries are committed to giving back to their communities throughout the Tampa Bay area.
Then, of course, there’s also the hitting and the blood. But each bruise and fall teaches players to rely on their own strength, said Valkyries Captain Candice Craddock, known to her peers as Sukie Sydal. In roller derby, you can be whoever you want and discover what you’re capable of, said Craddock, an intake psychiatric counselor with Bay Care Health Systems. From the endorphins that come with the intense, hours-long workout each practice to choosing light-hearted derby names that reflect daily struggles the sport has become a life line, she said.
“I’m a suicide counselor, and that’s not an easy job. I’m super aggressive and I had all this pent up negative energy that I needed to put toward something positive instead of the bottom of a bottle,” Craddock said. “I started doing derby and at first it sucked. I would fall over and over, but I kept with it and it became my metaphor for life. Every time I got knocked down I would get back up, and it made me feel stronger. I feel like if I can take on this, I can take on anything.”