Gold Coast Derby Grrls Head to Regional Championship

Leopard leggings and neon tights. Candy-striped socks. Booty shorts and cat ears. Sparkly skull decals and paisley bandannas. Scuffed-up helmets and nappy body padding. Pouting lips swollen with plastic mouth guards. Suitcase upon suitcase filled with gummy, rubber wheels.

A group of about ten chatty young women is seated alongside a Holiday Park roller skating rink. As the summer sky darkens, the song of cicadas grows louder and louder, almost drowning out the Gold Coast Derby Grrl's iPod boom box. Nothing, though, could quiet the travel team, still bawdy with its Cinderella story-like rise.

The team's only been in the Women's Flat Track Derby Association for six months, but has already been asked to compete in a regional competition in Kansas City, Mo., on Oct. 30.

"We paid our dues as an apprentice league. For them to invite us to regionals after six months, it's a huge deal. I think we're the first team that's done that," says Carnivorous Licks, legal name Laura Garro.

At practice Tuesday evening, Licks and the other Grrls focus on strategy.

"There's a lot of new girls, and we're trying to get them to know each other, to work with each other," Garro says.

Iggy Cocks, legal name Nikki Cox, looks forward to bringing different techniques to the table. Cocks, of Colorado, thinks that the Western, stopper strategy she originally learned -- where sudden pauses are an integral part of game play -- could help the team win in Missouri.

A little after 7 p.m., slightly more than half of the 20-member travel team rolls onto the rink.

There, they worked on everything from tomahawk stops -- when skaters halt and turn around on their toes -- to crossovers -- when skaters move their feet diagonally, to speed up turns. They worked on toe stops -- when skaters brake on their toes, as to have a running start -- and they worked on pushes and pulls. They coasted and they squatted and they sprinted, en mass and in single-file lines. Sometimes, they weaved between one another. Other times, they formed a unified, human chain.

Practice, which runs until 9:30 p.m., takes place six days weekly. The girls on the travel team -- the creme de la creme in terms of talent and committedness -- are expected to attend at least three practices per week, and work in strength-training time at the gym, too. They all have other jobs, sometimes two of them. 

What many people don't understand, Licks says, is how much time derby requires. Because of this, turnover has been a major challenge for the whole Gold Coast Division, which originally began in 2007, and now boasts 60 members in the fresh meat, rotten meat, rookie, and veteran categories.

"Most girls just think: 'Oh, this is super cute,' then they quit," she says.

Another challenge the Grrls face is homelessness: They used to practice at the Gold Coast Roller Rink, which closed permanently Sunday. A lot of other venues, she says, want to charge up to $200 rink rental -- just for practice sessions.

Still, the Grrls, remain optimistic. They have a packed schedule even before Kansas City, with bouts planned against Ft. Myers on Aug. 27 (at War Memorial) and against Gainesville on Sept. 16 (at Bank United Center.)

Most of the participants feel that derby, even with its challenges, provides a sense of personal growth and sisterhood that other activities can't compare to. Also, for some, derby can be an escape from depression and addiction.

"If I weren't in derby, I'd be this big," Cocks says, widening her arms to twice the size of her petite frame. "And I'd be an alcoholic.  When I joined derby, I had something to do."

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Victoria Bekiempis