Rachel Wyrick started to skate for a local roller derby team at Joint Base Lewis-McChords AFC Arena in December 2011, a few months after her husband was killed while deployed in Afghanistan.
While she has yet to compete in a bout because of a torn abdominal muscle, Wyrick said being a part of the roller derby community at JBLM, most recently with the Cast Iron Skaters club, has been therapeutic through the rough times.
Many of the members of the Cast Iron Skaters say the team is like a family of families; everyone is there to support each other.
I dont know if it would have been the same on another team because its military, Wyrick said. People understood if I started crying during practice.
The co-ed derby squad began practicing last fall to prepare for the season opener Saturday against OneWorld Roller Derby of Seattle at the AFC Arena on Lewis Main at 6 p.m. The sport has brought together more than 20 participants made up of service members, spouses, civilian employees, contractors and even those not affiliated with the installation.
Like Wyrick, many of the skaters for the Cast Iron Skaters are military spouses.
While not all of them have lost loved ones, everyone can relate and sympathize. There are active duty service members, prior service and retired military on the team, as well as spouses who have waited at home while their service members were overseas.
It gives you the extra military family, said Tech. Sgt. Rebecca Schmidt of the 62nd Aerial Port Squadron. It gives you a new family where everyone can accept you no matter what your issues are.
That roller derby family expands outside JBLM, even outside Washington and the rest of the United States.
Team co-founder Jacqueline Dow began skating with the Roller Girls of the Apocalypse in 2010 while her and her husband, Dennis, were stationed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Shortly after being transferred to JBLM, Dow was accepted by the JBLM derby team at the time as one of their veterans.
With the Cast Iron Skaters, the same acceptance is given to new skaters who moved from the East Coast and as far away as Japan.
You will always be welcomed by the derby community, Dow said.
Children sometimes attend to skate during practices. Despite the current lack of a youth team in the program, children are often skating and learning roller derby basics.
Not just a league of their own
Christopher Qualters knows as a male skater on a co-ed roller derby team, the women on the two teams hes skated with try really hard to knock you down.
Its a no-win situation if they notice the male skater tries to take it easy on them when it comes to the physical part of the game.
When you move out of the way, theyre like Oh, Im really going to have to knock you down, Qualters said.
It would be an understatement that Qualters has been knocked down a few times while skating with women. Originally a team photographer for the Bettie Brigade, he skated with the women for fun.
But with the co-ed Cast Iron Skaters, the men and the women compete on the track together. Its a change of pace that adds another level to practice and makes everyone better.
It gives you a lot of difference you wouldnt be able to get skating with just women, Schmidt said. It gives us an extra level to practice with.
It also adds another demographic for JBLMs newest derby squad with different parts of installation represented.
Apart from the sense of family roller derby brings, it also allows many of the athletes to be themselves evidenced by face paint and derby names.
During the day Schmidt works in an office in uniform. When it comes to bouts, she lets her hair down, puts on crazy makeup and wears a jersey with the name Tasty Bits.
I get to be something that I cant be every day at work, so its nice to be able to do that, Schmidt said.
It also helps to have practice after a day at work and release frustration.
Theres always a certain person that makes my life pretty difficult at work, so its nice to be able to relieve all of that, Schmidt said. Its nice to be able to use it as fuel out here.
For female skaters like Dow, its a suitable sport for those who grew up as tomboys one of the many unique qualities of the roller sport.
I can act like an ass and be myself, she said.
Getting the ball, or skates, rolling
Since Dow and Wyrick co-founded the Cast Iron Skaters, one of the main factors in accepting new skaters was making sure they had the personality to join a family atmosphere that accepts new members from all walks of life, regardless of talent and skill.
And dont worry if youve never skated before; the others will teach you.
You may get people who have never skated before and after three or four months, they just have that knack and they transition into awesome skaters, Dow said. Theyre probably some of our top skaters now.
Practices are Wednesdays and Sundays from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The Cast Iron Skaters are still a young squad, seeking new members to expand to the long-term goals of having separate teams for men, women and children.
Just come and have fun and enjoy the physical fitness part of it, Dow said.
When you go
What: Cast Iron Skaters season opener against OneWorld Roller Derby of Seattle
When: Saturday, 6 p.m.
Where: AFC Arena on JBLM Lewis Main
To learn more: go to the teams website at www.castironskaters.com or the Cast Iron Skaters Facebook page.