Lauren Villegas sat on a warehouse floor lacing up her roller skates over the braces that protect her ankles. Inside her ankle is a four-inch titanium rod and eight screws.
The concrete beneath her was still cooling down from the day’s heat at 6:30 p.m. The warehouse was not exactly designed for optimal climate control, but for a nonprofit roller derby league, having a warehouse – with a bathroom, no less – is a blessing.
In this warehouse on Desire Parkway, Villegas is known as Cheap Thr!lls, a captain of the Crescent Wenches, a team in the Big Easy Rollergirls league. Like most women playing roller derby, Villegas has a nickname that projects her derby image.
The Big Easy Rollergirls, a women’s flat track roller derby league based in New Orleans, formed in 2004, following the 2001 reincarnation in Texas of roller derby as an all-female amateur sport with a do-it-yourself, punk rock mentality. It was one of the original 20 leagues chartered by its governing body, the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.
The sport has grown to encompass an international community of women.
Villegas, 32, has eight years under her belt. In a sport that is time-consuming, physically demanding and without financial compensation, eight years is a metaphor for commitment.
There are many reasons to not play, Villegas said: the time commitment, risk of injuries and difficulties finding a balance between her derby life and the rest of her life. But she said there were also so many reasons to keep coming back, even after multiple concussions and broken ankles.
“It’s about releasing that beast,” she said. “There’s something very primal, really being in touch with the animal inside a person.”
Dewuan “Diet Choke” Magee, 43, has been playing roller derby since 2010. An administrator at the New Orleans Children’s Hospital, Magee said that she is on the older end of the age spectrum, but that it does not affect how she interacts with other women in the league.
“I’ve gained relationships with people who I would not have had relationships with,” she said.
Magee said she was attracted to the roller derby community’s inclusiveness, regardless of age, occupation or appearance.
“Nobody looks like a magazine model,” she said. “They all look so different but they are all strong.”