The television show ‘RollerGames’ of the late 1980s/early 90s helped popularize the sport of #roller derby, although it was presented as a theatrical version — like that of professional wrestling.
Roller derby is currently played at Kellogg Arena as the home site for the Battle Creek Cereal Killers. And while elaborate costumes and player nicknames remain a part of roller derby, team members Antoinette Konopaske and Heather Hoffman want people to know that their sport — and the hits they deliver — are very real.
“More and more we’re trying to turn this into a sport that is legitimate and is recognized as such,” Konopaske said. “And I think we are really there. I think it’s growing.”
Konopaske, a.k.a. ‘Sister Slaughter,’ and Hoffman, a.k.a. ‘Punchie Bruiser,’ were guests on the latest episode of ‘Most Valuable Podcaster,’ as the Cereal Killers get ready for their home finale on Oct. 24 against the Mitten Mavens of Lansing.
“It’s sort of like an alter ego,” Hoffman said. “Who I am as ‘Punchie’ is not exactly who I am as Heather. And that’s really important, because I don’t think I would be able to go out on the track and hit people as who I am in real life.”
Konopaske is a Battle Creek Central High School graduate and one of three original members of the Cereal Killers, which began competition in 2011. She said roller derby athletes come from all walks of life.
“The competition and athleticism is one thing. Then you’ve got your camaraderie with your teammates,” Konopaske said. “These are girls I never would have thought I’d be friends with. You just develop these relationships over a period of time, whether it be six months or four years. I’d do anything for my teammates… They mean a lot to me.”
Hoffman, of Kalamazoo, was first a fan of the sport, but started competing thanks to encouragement from her late husband.
“I saw my first derby bout in Feb. of ’09 and it changed my life,” Hoffman said. “My husband had cancer, and we used to watch Derby together in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo so he knew how important the sport was to me… I didn’t start until about six months after he passed away and it took that long to kind of get over the grief factor. But I really needed to do something with all this time, because otherwise I was just being sad.
“There is nothing else in my life that makes me feel the way I do in derby… This has completely changed my whole life around. I feel like I am bringing elements of my derby self into life.”
Nick Buckley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 269-966-0652. Follow him on Twitter:@NickJBuckley