FAIRBANKS - When Michelle Maynor started the Fairbanks Rollergirls in 2008, she didn’t know what to expect. But then the film “Whip It,” a Drew Barrymore flick about a roller derby league in Texas, came out the next year.
“It propelled roller derby into a whole new level of awareness as far as the public,” Maynor, 34, said. “Everybody wants to come check it out. They get addicted to it.”
What that’s meant for the Fairbanks Rollergirls is a bigger audience every bout. Their last bout, on Jan. 30 against a league from Vancouver, British Columbia, sold out with more than 2,000 people in attendance.
Maynor said she had trouble attracting sponsors for the team at first but now sponsors come to her. The league bought a $20,000 collapsible skating floor late last year. The Rollergirls are preparing to launch a junior league this fall, and the team is looking for warehouse space to rent for practices, Maynor said. Team members currently hone their skating skills at the Boys and Girls Club of the Tanana Valley.
“I had no idea it was going to get this big this fast,” Maynor said. “It’s really amazing.”
The printer and graphic artist launched the league after visiting her sister-in-law, who helped introduce roller derby in Anchorage. Maynor figured the sport would go over well here too.
“In Fairbanks, we are generally tougher women,” Maynor said. “I mean, you can’t be super woozy and make it in Fairbanks.”’
The team boasts 35 members, who must pass a skills assessment before they are permitted to skate in a bout, Maynor said. To play the game, four skaters help a lead skater, known as a jammer, score points by passing members of the other team.
It’s a contact sport with blockers who use their hips and shoulders to hold back the opposition. Pop music is played loudly during each period, and players wear old-school quad skates. The team’s Web site states no fruit boots, or inline skates, are allowed.
Players have nicknames. Maynor is known as Bad Lady ’53, the moniker displayed on the plate of her 1953 Chevy pickup.
“It’s very empowering for women,” said past team captain Jenny Ray, or JumponJen, a 40-year-old owner of a coffee stand. “You learn to be a team. You don’t have to be a certain size. It doesn’t matter what you look like. If you skate well, you do well. There’s probably a lot of feminists on the team.”
Erika Rader, known as Pyroclastic Flo, a nod to Rader’s volcanology studies at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, is a hockey player who joined the Rollergirls in late 2008, following a friend who’d joined.
Roller derby is more aggressive than women’s hockey but there are crossover skills, Rader said.
“The fitness side of things and the skating ability,” she said.
Rader, 25, likes roller derby because all kinds of women can play. Brawny girls can be good blockers, but petite girls can play well too because they’re good at dodging other skaters.
The team selected Rader as its most valuable player at the last bout when the Fairbanks Rollergirls lost to Vancouver’s Faster Pussycats 104-81. The team has played the Rage City Rollergirls of Anchorage three times, winning once.
“I think one of the things I contribute to the team is energy,” Rader said. “If we are kind of not doing well, I can go out there and make people feel like we have a chance.”
The Rollergirls’ next bout is scheduled for March 6 in Anchorage. They play in Fairbanks again on April 3.
A portion of the ticket sales go to a nonprofit human service agency. For more information, go to fairbanksrollergirls.org.