“When they first started here, I went to the first meeting at Druid City [Brewery], and it was like finding 35 friends,” said Heidi Benstead, who goes by “Ebola Lola.” “You’re going to hear a lot of that – ‘Derby saved my life!’ But it’s the most amazing and positive group.”
The Dames were started by Megan Gunter, known on the rink as Valhallaback Girl. Before founding Tuscaloosa’s team, she commuted to Birmingham to be a part of their group, the Tragic City Rollers. She decided to gauge local interest in the sport on Facebook and received a surprising number of responses. Through social media, Gunter met Kelly Wolfe, also known as “Assault E. Senorita” or “Salty” for short, who now acts as the team’s coach.
Before the team can even think about taking on opponents, they have to meet a certain number of requirements laid out by the #Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. These tests include the speed challenge Ebola Lola passed earlier in the night. Wolfe thus spends most of a practice drilling players on these skills.
This team, the #Druid City Dames, is just a few months old. They lack a practice space of their own and have yet to be recognized by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, but they have the camaraderie and spirit of a group that’s been around for years.
Feeding off the energy of the crowd, Lola pushed herself and finished her final lap just under the buzzer. The room filled with applause. She had surmounted the most difficult part of her training and was well on her way to being able to compete with Tuscaloosa’s only #roller derby league.
Ebola Lola glided around the curve of the skating rink, exhausted. She was attempting a grueling initiation rite to join the Druid City Dames – completing 27 laps on a regulation track in under five minutes. Time was running out, and Lola had only one lap remaining between her and the finish line. The whole room began to cheer and shout encouragement at the athlete.
In order for the Druid City Dames to take on opponents, they have to meet a certain number of requirements laid out by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. CW | Shelby Akin