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The sound of hard rubber rolling on wood hangs in the air on a cold Thursday night at Memorial Hall as 26 women practice drills with the Root River Rollers, a women’s flat track roller derby team based in Racine.
The women duck walk and practice falling, whip each other forward, and huddle close together in a line as Kelli Gartner, president of the organization, calls out the next drill. Her alter ego name is Icy Red and she’s one of the founding members of the group. She helped start the group in October 2012 because she knew there weren’t many outlets for women who wanted to do sports in town.
The women who join the Root River Rollers come from all walks of life — nurses, mothers, bartenders, hairdressers, active duty military, teachers, call center workers, and painters. They often want to meet new people, but also want the exercise and get their aggression out in a positive way. Still, the Root River Rollers vision includes empowering women, not tearing one another down.
“There’s a place for everyone,” Gartner says. “But what it’s not about is fighting. This is not the old bank track style roller derby. These women bought all the equipment for this… they have paid to be here and we’re a charitable organization.”
Kim Marks joined the team two weeks ago. And at age 50, her motivation for joining was to prove something to herself. She had always enjoyed roller skating and wanted to do something fun.
“It’s great exercise and I felt like it was something I could do since I have been on wheels my whole life,” Marks said.
For Heather Jones, being part of a team has been gratifying. She likes the speed, the strategy around the competition and that there’s always an offensive and defensive move that you have to be doing at the same time.
“It’s been fun,” she said. “These ladies have been awesome… everyone here is so supportive.”
Gartner says watching women who could hardly stand up on skates become able to compete is a rewarding experience, but it’s also gratifying to watch them have healthy relationships with other women.
“A lot of times people come to us after they’ve just gotten a divorce or had a bad break-up. And it’s hard for them to have healthy relationships,” Gartner said. “But here, women aren’t caddy. They literally come from all walks of life and they get to meet new people.”
The team held a bout in April. They plan to do more once their newer members get their skills up to speed since the sport is so physical.
The group also wants to do more events to raise money for charities. They’ve held fundraisers for the Women’s Resource Center hosting a fund-raiser for the Women’s and Children’s Horizons in Kenosha from 7 to 11 p.m. Feb. 21 at MCAuliff’s Pub South, 3700 Meachem Road.