Roller Derby with Katrina “Bell Bruising” Bell

You may be familiar with Katrina Bell, recently appointed director of The Writing Center and professional tutor, or perhaps you’ve admired her magenta-colored hair while working in the library. However, you may not know that while Bell devotes a significant amount of her time to Colorado College, she has another role outside of academia: Bell is a blocker for the Pikes Peak Dames roller derby team in Colorado Springs.

Photo by Adison Knight

Katrina “Bell Bruising” Bell has played roller derby for six years—three years in Illinois, and three years in Colorado Springs. She was drawn to roller derby because it is exciting, and it provides an excellent way to relieve the stress of working on her doctorate, which Bell plans to complete this summer on rhetoric and composition, with a focus in writing center studies.

Roller derby is a contact sport played by two teams roller scating around a rink. In the past, roller derby was often thought of as a sport where women wore fishnets, drank beer, and were percieved as “strippers on wheels.” However, these conceptions of the sport are changing. Colorado Springs has five teams, two of which travel: the Slamazons and the nationally ranked All-Stars. Ranked 100th out of 500 teams in the nation, the All-Stars are very competitive and have hosted some of the world’s best skaters for clinics in Colorado Springs.

During her six years in the roller derby ring, Bell has witnessed some changes. The evolution from fishnets to compression pants and custom molded skates has allowed roller derby to become more standardized. In addition to changing uniforms and equipment, the focus of the sport has shifted towards improving athleticism and maximizing nutrition for top performance. Roller derby athletes cross train together, bring in guest yoga instructors before games and practices, have established connections with physical therapy organizations, and share recipes for high protein diets to keep up with the growing competition and achieve peak performance.

The schedule and commitment for roller derby can be quite grueling, especially for athletes who play on multiple teams. Some athletes compete on up to three separate teams, a commitment of at least nine hours per week for practices, not including one-hour games on Saturdays, mandatory fundraising, and committee work.

Typical of most roller derby leagues, the Colorado Springs league is an all-female identifying nonprofit business with a five-member board of directors, of which Bell is the secretary. Each team member must participate in monthly fundraising efforts to fund travel, hotel stays, and gear. The cost of lodging while traveling for tournaments can be upwards of $2000. 

No longer “strippers on wheels,” roller derby teams in Colorado Springs are composed of doctors, nurse practitioners, lawyers, cake bakers, bus drivers, and veterinarians, to name a few. As Bell put it, roller derby teams are “the best cross section of society,” with women from radically different backgrounds competing alongside one another.

One thing is for certain, though; these women are tough. Athletes in their mid-50s who have undergone multiple knee surgeries and various injuries compete regularly. Some women take time off to have kids, others come back three weeks after giving birth, planning their families around roller derby. While Bell doesn’t have children, she made sure to apply to jobs in areas with active roller derby teams.

While thoroughly immersed in academia, Bell feels at home when she arrives at roller derby practice. There, she said it is “nice to be able to walk into a space and have women who look like me.” Despite the 14 or 15 hour days that her tightly-packed schedule requires, Bell finds that roller derby is worth the time. There are many lessons to be learned from the sport: how to speak up for and trust yourself, to do things you did not think you were capable of, and to trust your teammates. “In derby, you get to yell, you get to hit, you get to fall down,” Bell said. “You have to think about things, but if you overthink you’re never going to get it right; you need to follow your instincts and trust yourself. You get to fail … and it’s empowering to fail when there are other people supporting you.” Perhaps most importantly, Bell said, “We’re never just on our own here.”

When asked what she loves most about roller derby, Bell talked about the sheer physicality of the sport. “I do things on my skates I wouldn’t even do on my normal feet,” she said. “This is one of the only sports I’ve ever seen where you are as physical as a football player. We don’t treat each other gently.”

Yet, it’s not just about the physical nature of the sport. “There’s something about hearing the sound of 40 skates on the floor, working towards some common goal” that makes the sport something more, something that transcends the four concussions (including the one that has her out of roller derby for a year and left her with a cracked cheekbone), loss of two salivary glands, black eyes, and frequently dislocated ribs that have come with the game.

For Bell, roller derby is more than a way to stay in shape; it’s a way to connect with and be empowered by other women, to be physical, to momentarily escape the confines sometimes imposed by academia, to learn about failure in a positive light, and to surprise herself with what she can do. 

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