Sophomore lives out roller derby dream


Sophomore Savannah Simmons prepares for one of her three weekly practices with the Bleeding Heartland Rollergirls. Glory Sheeley Buy Photos

Her muscles are tense, heart rate quickening.

The whistle is blown and Simmons takes off — smashing through the pack to participate in what she calls “the most exhilarating thing in the world.” 

Simmons, a sophomore, begins her second season with the Bleeding Heartland Rollergirls in February.

She said the track to roller derby was a dream for several years.

“I’ve wanted to play roller derby since I was 12, and was just counting down the days until I turned 18,” Simmons said. “I came to IU a couple months after that, went to a BHRG skills camp and never looked back.”

Since its grassroots revitalization in the early 2000s, roller derby has become an addictive sport for many women like Simmons.

According to the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, the governing organization of the sport, the game is played in bouts with five players all on skates.

The jammer scores points by lapping players of the opposing team.

Meanwhile, the blockers and pivots try to help their jammer while thwarting the opposition’s jammer.

The game is complete with outrageous nicknames and colorful uniforms.

The BHRG team is not a stranger to the flamboyance of its sport.

Team member names include Bombshell Shock, Naylor Coffinshutt and Oxford Coma.

The name is part of the game, Simmons said.

“Derby names have always been a part of modern roller derby, though not everyone has one,” Simmons said. “Many see it as a way to take on a different persona on the track than that of their day-to-day life, and they’re just a fun way to say something about yourself.”

The BHRG has seen many names during its seven seasons.

Formed in 2006 by a small group of women, the team has exploded in the derby world.

Today, there are 30 team-placed players on three competitive teams.

In past years, the Flatliners, the Code Blue Assassins and the Poison IVs played locally, throughout the Midwest and nationally.

This year, for the first time, the team will leave the flat tracks stateside to contend in a competition in Toronto. 

They’ll face the Toronto Roller Derby, Montreal Roller Derby and the Ohio Rollergirls in March, Simmons said.

“One of our team goals is to continue shocking the world,” Simmons said. “Because we come from the smallest town of any league in Division 1, we have to make up for what we lack in size with determination and hard work.”    

The hard work begins at practices three days a week.

“We have three, three-hour practices per week, as well as two scheduled workout sessions and other open practice times,” Simmons said. “During our season, which this year is February through June, we have 13 bouts scheduled with possibly more to come.”

The work is hard, complete with drills for endurance, agility and strategy training.

However, Simmons said it’s worth it for the capstone bouts of the season. 

“Skating in a bout is a very intense experience,” Simmons said. “If you’re playing a well-matched team in a good venue with good fans, it’s competitive, exhausting, nerve-wracking, thrilling and unimaginably fun.”

Shanda Rude, previously known as “Doc Doc Noose,” has played with the BHRG for four seasons.

During a period of transition in her life, Rude said she found companionship within the roller derby team.

“I was in a position where a lot of my friends had graduated and moved on to other towns, and I was looking for a new community,” Rude said. 

She also said she missed being an athlete after years of sport in high school.

After watching her friend participate in a bout and witnessing the interactions among the players, she said she knew she found a new home.

“There is an incredible sense of camaraderie being part of a team that also owns itself,” Rude said. “There is a lot of work involved, but we are all invested in the success of the whole, and it’s great to all be working together in that way.”

Though the sport is played on the track by the team, power players behind the scenes are responsible for getting the BHRG well-seasoned and to all the competitions.

The team is sponsored by many local businesses and volunteers serve throughout the season.

Referees, coaches and retired players are active supporters and provide guidance to the team.

However, the team said it also believes it should give back to the community it comes from.

“We are serious about making a positive impact in our community,” the BHRG website says. “Each year, we help raise money and volunteer for local charities. We have been proud to take part in community events and fundraising efforts for a number of local organizations.”    

Those organizations include Middle Way House, Hoosier Hills Food Bank and Big Brothers Big Sisters, among others.

The BHRG is focused on bringing a sport they love to the city they love, and Simmons said there is always room for more.

“We are always looking for new skaters,” she said. “It’s a great way to stay in shape — you get an instant family with the league. And, come on, girls racing and knocking each other down while on roller skates? It’s the perfect sport.”

Follow reporter Hannah Fleace on Twitter @HFleace.

Correction: A previous version of this story said the BHRG had six previous seasons, although it is really seven. A previous version also said that the jammer is released on the second whistle, but all players are released into the game at the same time.

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