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Vixens empower women, community
Stephanie Gallaway knew that she wanted to be a part of roller derby from the moment that she knew the sport existed.
After seeing a derby event in St. Louis in the spring of 2011, she returned to Nebraska and noticed there was a team starting. “I thought, ‘Yes, here’s my chance!’” she recalled.
Since then, Gallaway (a.k.a. Florence Welts) has become the team captain, serves on the board of directors and is the marketing and communications officer.
The Platte Valley Roller Vixens are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and a skater-managed organization dedicated to promoting roller derby through competition. Their purpose is to form and strengthen community ties through volunteerism and service, as well as positively model athleticism, good sportsmanship and volunteerism.
A BRIEF HISTORY
The organization was born not as Vixens but as Rolling Thunder, however. The Tri-City Rolling Thunder began in June 2011 with about 20 members and three two-hour practice sessions each week. From the beginning, service work such as highway cleanups and Relay for Life activities were an integral part of the organization.
The league was introduced to the community in January 2012 with its first official bout in Norfolk. The business structure of the Rolling Thunder developed as a board of directors was formed.
The board decided to change the team name to the Platte Valley Roller Vixens in September 2012 after receiving feedback from the international derby community regarding an infringement on a Canadian league’s team name.
Through this transition, most of the original leadership was maintained, and the league hired an attorney to establish articles of incorporation and bylaws. The league was registered with the Secretary of State in Nebraska and, two years later, officially recognized as a 501(c)(3) non-profit in 2014.
There are currently 13 skaters in the league. To join the team, recruits must attend 13 weeks of "Fresh Meat" training and pass minimum skills tests. These skills include forwards and backwards skating, weaving around pylons, jumping pylons, traversing the track, and the notorious "27 in 5,” or skating 27 laps in five minutes.
After passing the skills tests, they are eligible to purchase derby insurance, choose a derby name and number, and register as a Platte Valley Roller Vixen.
Another important aspect of the league is referees and non-skating officials. There are three referees and nine non-skating officials in the league. Without these individuals, who all participate on a volunteer basis, a sanctioned bout is not possible.
At a Roller Vixens bout, one sees a sport decidedly different than the preconceived picture of roller derby: a staged match with rude competitors. This is certainly not the case, Gallaway said. One of the team’s objectives is to challenge misconceptions about roller derby, from the nature of the sport itself to what a “derby girl” looks like.
“People think of roller derby girls as tattooed, rude and mean people, which is not the case,” she said. “We have teachers, and nurses, and mothers on our team.”
The diversity of backgrounds that the skaters come from means there are also many different body types, which Gallaway also appreciates.
“No matter what you look like, there’s a role for you on the team. The openness and acceptance and diversity is something that we hope resonates with the audience,” she added.
Tracy Adrian (far left), known as Venus the Victorious on the track, is a mother of seven who joined the Vixens three years ago. She has found catharsis in skating and support from the team.
“I found a sense of community [which] also includes our opponents. Derby teams often assist one another by providing training, support, and even subs,” she said. “Our after-parties are mini-reunions!”
For Adrian as well as other roller girls, the sport is very symbolic in facing opposition off the track. Adrian joined the league while she was going through a separation and gained inner strength through roller derby.
“I came to derby feeling broken, uncertain of my path, and anxious about my future. Facing my fears on wheels gave me the courage to do so off wheels. Surviving bumps and bruises helped heal my inner brokenness, too,” she said. “I'm still uncertain of my path, but when I get knocked down now, in derby or in life, I know I'm strong enough to get back up.“
This sense of empowerment is something the Vixens want to share with the community by modeling athleticism and sportsmanship.
“That’s something that we hope to model for women and younger girls that are coming to watch the game,” Gallaway said. “Even though we’re serious in the game, when the game is over, we’re friendly and good sports about it.”
They also support the community through volunteer service. The Vixens partnered with the SASA Crisis Center for the season, hosting fundraisers to benefit the organization. SASA is a non-profit agency providing 24-hour emergency and supportive services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in Grand Island and surrounding communities.
“As a female-driven sport, roller derby naturally fosters a culture of empowerment... and encourages strength in women, so we cannot think of a more empowering goal than putting a stop to domestic violence and sexual assault which predominantly affects women and children,” Gallaway said.
The Vixens’ next home bout is June 13 at the Fonner Park Swine Arena. To learn more, visit rollervixens.com.
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