Flat track fever

The Alaska Aces may be gone, but Anchorage is still home to some skating excitement. The Rage City Rollergirls kicked off their 10th season earlier this month with their Monster Mashup at the AT&T Sports Complex.

While a void has been left in the hearts of local sports fans after the demise of their semi-pro hockey team, Rage City is here to show them that what they’ve been missing has been here all along.

Roller derby is something more adverse to the mainstream, but just as hard hitting and entertaining as hockey.

Instead of Brandon Dubinsky or Scotty Gomez, there is Hot Donna and Shocker Khan, the stage names of the two captains of Anchorage’s roller derby league.

“It’s real. It’s an actual sport,” Shocker Khan said. “A lot of people think it’s staged and whatnot, but it’s real.”

Khan, who has been skating with Rage City for almost nine years, is the captain of Orange Crush, RCRG’s B-team.

Like most skaters, Khan picked up the sport almost by accident. An army veteran, she was on multiple soccer and curling teams when a co-worker turned her onto roller derby.

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“She got me a ticket to the first bout here, and before they even started, I was like, “I have to do this!” It was just the names and how they skated out and the whole production, so I joined and everything just slowly went away. Now it’s derby all the time,” Khan said.

The Rage City Rollergirls practing jams at the AT&T Sports Complex. Established in 2007, the Rage City Rollergirls are one of 12 roller derby leagues in Alaska. Photo credit: Jay Guzman

Hot Donna, the captain for Rage City’s all-star team, was, at first, a little more tepid toward playing.

“One of my coworkers was like, ‘Hey, go to this boot camp with me.’ And I said, verbatim, ‘There’s no way in hell you’ll ever see me on a pair of skates.’ I went to boot camp, she did not, and [here I am] today,” Donna said.

Rage City is a member of the WFTDA, or Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, and are currently ranked 62 out of 335 recognized leagues.

Staying ranked can be challenging for a small market team as traveling to play other ranked teams is expensive. The all-stars try to travel out of state for tournaments at least once a year. Their ultimate goal is to be invited to a WFTDA Division 2 tournament.

“We strive to be competitive,” Donna said. “We would love to make this a much bigger league, double or even triple in size.”

Alaska has about 12 leagues scattered through the state, but playing some of these leagues could hurt Rage City’s ranking as opposed to padding it, regardless of the outcome of the bout, due to the intricate ranking system that also considers the strength of the opponent.

“We’re the best in the state, so typically, to play at our caliber, we have to either bring people up, which is hard to do, or go down [to the Lower 48],” Donna said.

Rage City has four tiers within their league: Juniors, which is for new players between the ages of seven and eighteen, Fresh Meat, which is the steppingstone into competitive derby play, and then Orange Crush and All-Stars.

“The majority of [women who join] don’t know how to skate, have never played full contact sports before, so they’re learning from the very beginning,” Khan said.

Rage City strives to be a place for everyone.

“If you look out there, you will see people of all different sizes,” Donna said. “You can’t use your physique as a reason or your skill level as a reason as to why you can’t do it… There are skaters in this league who are in their fifties, there’s no discrimination.”

Hell Hath Fury picked up derby when she was living in Germany with her husband, who was stationed there, and her three kids.

“I saw somebody had placed an ad online that they were recruiting, so I drove an hour and a half to join,” Fury said. “I like hitting people, that’s my favorite part. I thought it would be a good outlet.”

It wasn’t easy going for Fury, as she worked her way through the derby ranks.

“When I was in Fresh Meat the first time, I came down with a very serious lung disease and I almost died,” Fury said. “My goal was to pass Fresh Meat so I could play roller derby; if I didn’t die. And so, it took me literally four months to pass my laps because I had bad lungs.”

Because of her tenacity, her fellow skaters gave her the “Hell Hath Fury” name.

“My new goal is to not suck as bad,” Fury said. “[But also] getting better and have fun.”

Part of the fun is coming up with their skater names, which are supposed to be different from any other registered skater. There is also a lore behind the process.

“Back in the day, when roller derby first started, it was not ladylike for women to go out and hit each other and wear short shorts on the track and whatnot, so they didn’t use their real names and came up with stage names… It’s kind of been a tradition since then,” Khan said.

The stage names and lingo are a mark of pride for the skaters.

“I love going out and getting into a really in-depth conversation about derby and no one else in the vicinity knows what’s going on except for you and that person,” Donna said. “It’s [a sport] that has so many different components to it.”

The Rage City Rollergirls play their next home bout at the AT&T Sports Complex on Nov. 18.