“Can I take one with my machete,” a voice sounds across the Ozone Skate Center in Dalton. It’s picture day for the North Georgia Roller Girls, and for the participants of this sport steeped in physical contact, looking tough and mean is all part of the game.
The all-female roller derby team is in the midst of a resurrection, returning to competition after the original team folded. Some of the ladies on the original team have returned, while others are just coming aboard.
The team is prepping for its first home bout, a match-up with the Smoky Mountain Roller Girls on April 28 at the Ozone Skate Center, 611 Sheridan Ave. in Dalton, starting at 10:30 a.m. So after pictures last week, team members hit the floor for practice.
The more experienced members separate from the group to practice higher-level skating drills, while newcomers join up with team leader Julia Zavala, also known as Bubbles, to work on more basic skills, which they must master to be eligible to participate in the upcoming bout. Zavala, who injured herself while rounding a corner with speed at the Ozone, wears a walking boot and moves around while kneeling on a scooter. She carries a clipboard to assess the skills of the new team members.
As part of being bout-ready, the newcomers have to be tested on their skating and knowledge of roller derby, she said. And with physical contact and movement essential to the sport, have a strong core of skills — like stopping, dropping down to the floor and jumping back up, and turning with speed — is extremely important.
“It’s like football for women,” said Zavala. “When you start you fall in love with it.”
Though new to the team, Payton Eagan of Calhoun practices with the team regulars, as she has been participating in roller derby since she was 15, joining up with a junior-level team in Rome.
“I just have a passion for roller skating,” she said, a passion which began like many others at a birthday party at a roller rink.
Eagan, even as a younger member, spoke of the team being more like a family, with everyone there to empower and encourage one another, she said.
“It’s like a family,” she said.
For others, the opportunity to be physical in a sport outside of high school is an attraction in its own right.
“Skating and brute strength sounds fun,” said Meadows, a Fairmount native, who joined the team at the encouragement of Jones, a co-worker of hers.
“There are rules to ensure it’s not complete chaos,” Eagan said. “But it’s still pretty rough.”