Monday, March 25, 2013
Stay-at-home mom uses roller derby as athletic and emotional outlet
Michaelle Key, a.k.a. Annie Wrecksion, can't wait to put her 17-month-old in skates too.
DALLAS When Michealle Key’s 17-month-old daughter Penelope saw her mother in her roller derby gear for the first time, she burst into tears.
While Key’s kneepads, helmet, elbow pads, wrist guards, and mouth guard may scare Penelope now, Key hopes that her daughter will take up the sport that has given her an outlet and chance to join a sisterhood of derby girls.
“I can’t get her on skates just yet. The smallest size skate is a six and she’s a [size] five,” Key said. “I just hope she loves it as much as I do.”
Key, who goes by Annie Wrecksion on the track, is a part of a national revival of roller derby. As a part of two of the six Dallas Derby Devils teams and the league’s board, Key is working tirelessly around the North Texas area to promote the sport and its participants.
“When derby first started in 2004, it was all about the glitz and the glamour and the fishnets,” Key said. “Getting past that whole entertainment part will be our biggest hurdle. It is a sport. It is women athletes truly competing.”
Derby’s national revival, which began in Austin, has spawned over 1,200 amateur leagues worldwide, making roller derby an internationally recognized amateur sport. Over 250 of these leagues are members of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, the governing body for roller derby.
The stay-at-home mom first became interested in roller derby in 2007, when a friend invited her to watch a bout. “I went to a game and one of the girls who was playing, Debbie Downer, is one of my good friends … She came up to me and told me I should try out,” Key said. “A couple of days later she posted on Facebook that there were tryouts, so I told my husband ‘I’m going to do this.’”
Her husband, Jeff, was thrown off guard at first but quickly jumped onto the roller derby bandwagon, eventually becoming a coach for the Derby Devils league.
“We geek out on derby all the time,” Key explains.
Jeff, who has his own derby name, Hugh G. Wrecksion, was a key player in deciding what Michaelle would be called on the track.
“[Her name is] a play on words [and] something I thought would be fun. Some guys at work at the shop were reading the names off the master roster and it got me thinking,” said Jeff. Key’s husband has already come up with a name for his daughter, who he hopes will join the sport when she is old enough for the growing junior leagues.
“She already has her own derby name, Pepper Overdrive aka P-O'd,” he said.
Key’s family isn’t the only one that loves the sport. Sarah Daeuber, who goes by Julia Childless, announces roller derby games around the country in hopes that she can further roller derby’s popularity.
“I can help people see it and hear it more, and I can help people understand it well,” Daeuber said. “People know football, they know basketball, but they come in here and they don’t necessarily know derby.”
Roller derby, which is portrayed in popular culture in films like Whip It!, involves two five-person teams competing strategically around an oval track to get a specific skater, known as the jammer, through the pack of other skaters on the track. The most important fact about roller derby is that it is played on roller skates, with four wheels, rather than inline skates.
“A lot of people think, ‘Oh I can roller blade so I can roller skate too,’ and that is definitely not the case,” Key said. “But if you’ve skated in your youth, you’d be surprised how quickly you can pick it up.”
The Dallas Derby Devils holds tryouts three to four times a year for its six teams. Key, who plays for both the home Death Row Rumblers team and the traveling team, the Army of Darkness, urges prospective derby players to realize how much of a time commitment playing roller derby can be.
“You’re skating anywhere from two to three days a week. In order to stay in top shape, you have to work out outside of derby too,” she said.
For Key, though, the sport’s time requirements give her the opportunity to take a break from her day-to-day life as a mom.
“Derby is my outlet. Being a mom, I have to stay positive all day for my daughter,” Key said. “When I go to derby, it’s just for me. I get to take out my aggression and exercise.”
At a recent Lonestar Derby Coalition mash-up, where derby players from different leagues and teams joined up for a pre-season bout, Key was focused, skating ahead of the pack to keep an eye out for the jammers. Her experience as a coach during her pregnancy was evident, since she skated more strategically instead of in search of the biggest hit, though she did end up in the penalty box on occasion.
“I stayed on my skates until I was 6 months pregnant,” said Key. “When [you’re a coach and] on the sidelines, you can see it all. I think it helped my derby game just by watching and not playing.”
She also says her experience with derby has provided her a new support system of derby girls, who have fun together both on and off the track. “It really is a sisterhood; we all look out for each other,” Key said. “It’s the closest group of girlfriends I’ve ever had.”
These girlfriends have real life, more traditionally named alter egos, off the track, and work everywhere from bankruptcy law firms to elementary schools.
Leslie Burgoyne, who referees Derby Devils games as Miss Dee Meaner, says that as an attorney, refereeing is almost second nature. “Being a referee is a lot like being an attorney. It’s about interpreting the rules and knowing them better than anyone else,” she said.
When asked how she balances being an attorney, a derby fanatic, and a single mom, Burgoyne has a simple answer. “This is my life,” she said.
Key, who worked as a bad debt administrator at TRS-RenTelco before her pregnancy, can’t imagine working now. “[For] the people who have full time jobs, it’s nonstop derby and nonstop work,” Key said.
Key, who didn’t participate in traditional sports as a child, is adamant that roller derby teaches young girls, like those who participate in the Derby Devils’ Junior League, important life skills.
“It’s such a great sport for teaching skating, teamwork, how to be aggressive but not overly aggressive ... It teaches you a lot. It’s a different kind of sport. It’s really empowering for girls,” she said.
“At home games ... it’s loud and the announcers are talking and there’s music going but once you’re on the track you don’t hear any of it,” she said. “[After bouts] little kids ask for autographs. You do feel like a rock star sometimes.”
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