Hell on 8 Wheels

When it comes to Roller Derby, most people probably imagine their parents in the ‘70s watching the local derby team — but this isn’t your Mom’s roller derby and the Lowcountry Highrollers aren’t your parents’ team. They play tough, they play fair and they are consummate athletes, bruises and all.

If you’re like most people, the extent of your knowledge about roller derby and the rules of the sport, comes from a movie. Here are the basics in the Lowcountry Highrollers’ league: two fourteen-person teams play two thirty-minute halves on a flat-track sport court, which is shaped as an oval. At any given time, each team has one jammer, whose main objective is to score points, and four blockers, who play defense and attempt to get their jammer into the front of the group. In addition, one blocker is designated the pivot, who is the only blocker allowed to accept a “star pass” from the jammer. “Star passes” are when a jammer hands off their helmet cover, which has a star on it, to the pivot during a jam. After that happens, the jammer and the pivot switch roles. The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association league states that throughout each period, there are “jams,” or two minute games, where each jammer scores one point per person of the opposite team she passes. While the stereotype surrounding roller derby is that these athletes play fast and loose with safety rules, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Similar to football, the WFTDA teams play with legal zones where players can hit one another – the hips, rear or shoulders. Following these rules, it’s apparent why these women are fighting to be seen as athletes in a world that denies them such a title. The world stereotypes many aspects of their sport, from the violent nature of derby to the ideas about the athletes involved — from their character to how much athleticism is actually required.

Get a load of the Roller Derby action. (Photo by Haley Beckel.)

While something so contact-heavy can feel very intimidating, these women pride themselves on being inclusive and accepting of one another. When asked why Charleston, Ashley Garrett, the President of the Lowcountry Highrollers and a College of Charleston alumna, stressed this inclusivity. “There’s a place for derby everywhere, just like there’s a place for everyone in derby,” she said. Garrett further stated that anyone who identifies as a woman, transwoman or intersex can participate. Throughout the interview, Garrett emphasized that these women are friends off the track and there’s a great camaraderie among their team. Garrett joked “It’s like a sorority, but everyone is cool and I get to hit them.”

In addition to creating a community within their team, the Lowcountry Highrollers strive to be active members of the local community in Charleston. On Nov. 4, the Lowcountry Highrollers will be hosting a 5K race to not only raise money for their team but also to benefit Fresh Future Farm, a nonprofit urban farm and grocery store in North Charleston. In addition to being a charitable event, it will also include a post-run brunch featuring local food trucks, coffee vendors and a Bloody Mary bar for those over twenty one. Events like this prove how serious the Lowcountry Highrollers are about becoming an integral part of the sports, service and entertainment landscape in Charleston. Garrett stated that one of the main goals of the team is to convince Charleston, which is mostly oblivious to their existence, that they are worth being known. These women glide around the track, crashing full-speed into one another, but still help one another up when they fall, showing they know both the meaning of being athletes and being a team.


*This article first appeared in the October 2017 issue of The Yard.

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