July 12, 2011— -- Warning: In Austin, Texas, if a woman looks like "hell on wheels," there could be a more literal meaning. Austin, capital of the Lone Star State, is also the center of modern-day roller derby.
That's right: Roller derby is back, and it's all grown up -- sort of.
Take Margaret Fackler. By day Fackler, a married mother of two, is a math and science teacher so beloved by her students they voted her teacher of the year.
By night she is Olivia Shootin' John of the Hotrod Honeys. "I like knocking people down," she said.
The path from teaching trig to body-checking grown women began when a friend she played soccer with said she was on her way to try out for a roller derby team. Fackler went along to support her. She had never heard of roller derby.
"When I walked in … I had no idea what I was getting into," she said. "When I saw my first game, that's when I knew this was the sport for me."
It's no wonder she didn't know what it was. The sport was huge in the 1960s and '70s, then disappeared faster than a pair of bell-bottoms tossed to the back of a closet. Suddenly and inexplicably, in the mid-1990s it came back, colorful nicknames and all.
"Most women don't get to play organized sports in the same way that little boys do, when they're [young]," Mary said. "To have … a women-only sport, a women-dominated sport, is really exciting. And to have it be a contact sport is really, really fun."
Bloody Mary is executive director of the Women's Flat Track Derby Association, which oversees hundreds of leagues. It all seems very official for a cultural phenomenon best known for its past as over-the-top entertainment, akin to professional wrestling.
"It's completely a sport, which is not to say it's not showy. It's a real game played by real rules," Mary stressed.
The rules are fairly complex, but the basic idea is that each team has a skater, called the jammer, who scores points by passing opponents called blockers who try to knock the jammer down. They go around and around a single track, and matches, or "bouts," last an hour. Popular cheers include "Faster! Faster! Kill kill kill!"
It's said that in NASCAR, another track sport, fans are just waiting for a crash. Bloody Mary admits this is true for roller derby as well.
"Contact sports are for crashing. That's what's fun about them. And the athletes are all really trained. So it's relatively safe … insofar as you can be safe. We do see injuries," Mary said.
A teammate, Babyface Assassin, has been sidelined for the season by a broken foot.
Fackler doesn't worry about getting hurt. "I think I worry more about hurting other people…. I love the feeling like I'm a giant monster that's going to come and take over your space," she said.
Fackler skates also for the league's all-star travel team, The Texas Texecutioners. During the season, she's on the road most weekends. And during the rest of the week, when she's not teaching and mothering, she's either practicing or training for roller derby.
Roller Derby: The Next Generation
"You really practice six days a week at this level of the game, and that doesn't even count all the other workouts you're doing. I do 200 crunches and 80 push-ups a day in the morning before I go to work, I run, I go to yoga, we're going to the gym and lifting weights," she said.
The intense commitment has paid off in legions of fans, including the Derby Widowers, husbands and boyfriends who thrill to and/or wince at every collision.
"It's definitely a concern, because I'm getting married in September, and my future wife is out there," said one Widower. "I'm like, Boy, I hope she doesn't have to go on crutches or something."
Roller Derby is so popular, it even has a junior league -- not to be confused with the Junior League -- called the Derby Bratz, with girls as young as eight years old. Members include Hannah Mon-Slammah and Prima Basherina.
Derby enthusiasts hope this next generation will make sure the sport doesn't disappear again.
"If your daughter wants to play roller derby," Fackler said, "you should be like, 'Yes, that is strong women, working hard. Awesome.'"