Flat Track Town USA

The second annual Big O international roller derby tournament rolls into Eugene

‘I wouldn’t recommend it to people who don’t have health insurance,’ says Lane County Concussion jammer James Brains of roller derbyPhoto by Rob and Tracy Sydor. robsydor.com

It was bound to happen: A Eugene spoof of the zeitgeisty show Portlandia, called, of course, Eugenia. The viral video lays down the same beat-heavy opening music as its Portland inspiration with “Eugenia” spelled out in an identical gritty typeface in front of a city view of Spencer Butte, followed by downtown shots of the federal building, Voodoo Doughnuts, the bus station, Cowfish and finally City Hall.

Enter roller derby skaters Erin (Bullet) and James Brains and Mayor Kitty Piercy. Another parallel to the original TV show: Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen frequently call on Portland’s mayor for favors or support. In Eugenia, the Brains pay a visit to Piercy’s office to inform her about The Big O, the city’s second annual international roller derby tournament.

“We’re really excited to make Eugene ‘Flat Track Town USA,’” Bullet tells Piercy, followed by a daydreaming sequence where Piercy imagines herself in full roller derby gear (complete with a jersey that says “Mojo Mayor” on the back). The mayor responds, “I’m going to need a mouth guard.” The video concludes with a slogan: “Put a bruise on it!”

From May 17-19, Eugene will become “Flat Track Town USA” for the biggest international roller derby tournament that Lane County has seen yet. Co-hosted by the Emerald City Roller Girls (ECRG) and Lane County Concussion (LCC), the Roller Girls’ male counterpart, The Big O tournament will feature 21 women’s, men’s and juniors’ teams (ages 10-17) from around the West Coast, as well as three international teams from British Columbia, England and Australia. ECRG President Courtenay Padgett (Blue Ruin) expects a turnout of about 500 “hardcore” derby fans and over 1,000 locals at the Lane Event Center, a larger attendance than last year’s tournament at Willalamalane which only had two sanctioned bout tracks versus this year’s three. The larger crowd will bring in nearly $600,000 for the city, according to estimates from Travel Lane County’s Kayla Krempley. And in typical Eugene (and Portlandia) fashion, The Big O is carving out its own distinctive niche by welcoming men’s and juniors’ teams (instead of just women’s teams) and making it a green event, in addition to intense physical and mental preparation.

The Crossover

In 2012, the men’s league competed in the first Big O, but this year the men of LCC are not only competing, they are cosponsoring the tournament with ECRG. James Brains, a jammer for LCC, explains that it was an intentional choice to show “that we support men’s roller derby.”

“Usually tournaments are men’s or women’s or juniors’,” adds Padgett, pointing out this year that the tournament will fully integrate the three leagues. “We decided to expand on that idea because it seemed unique. It made us different from other tourneys.”

“I think that’s one of the exciting aspects of this tournament is the juniors that are playing,” Kylie Belachaikovsky (Agent Orange) says. Belachaikovsky, who was voted favorite roller derby player in EW’s 2009-10 Best of Eugene, is competing as an all-star jammer in the women’s league and coaching the junior league. “Roller derby hasn’t been around very long and a lot of us came into roller derby with not a ton of previous athletic experience,” she says, “and now we have these juniors who have been playing derby for three, four and five years before they’re eligible to join an adult league and it’s exciting to see the incredible skill level that they’re bringing. A lot of them really have the potential to be elite athletes in the roller derby world.”

Green Sanctioned

Big events can produce even bigger waste, and the local roller derby community wants to avoid that. The Big O has applied to be certified by the Council for Responsible Sport, an organization that supports sports organizers “who strive to produce socially and environmentally responsible events.” At press time, they were still waiting on confirmation.

“It’s a very green production,” Belachaikovsky says. “We have a lot of strong values as a league about the environmental impact of our sport. It’s kind of unique.” So how will this manifest at a roller derby tournament? The event is 100 percent powered by renewable energy and will use “eco-friendly” and compostable food containers and flatware, provide recycle, compost and water-filling stations (to discourage single-use water bottles), and SeQuential Biofuels will capture vendor grease to use in their biodiesel fuel.

But it’s not only a commitment to reducing waste, recycling and composting; there is a healthy, sustainable food component as well. “I’ve been to quite a few tournaments and usually there’s the usual food available — concession-type food,” Belachaikovsky notes. “We’re actually going to be offering the skaters very healthy vegetarian options, food that’s really for athletes and not nachos and hot dogs.”

They Be Jamming and Planning

Playing in a tournament requires a different approach than playing in a single bout; training and strategy are pushed to the limit. Many derby players used the Eugene Marathon as a training peg for The Big O, while others turn to long-distance cycling and swimming to build endurance. Bill Klein (Shred Eye), who skates for LCC, rows 30 minutes a day on a stationary machine.

“I picture guys on another team that I’m not that fond of, and I know they’re not doing it,” Klein says, laughing. For the past six months, he’s also been on the paleo diet (aka the caveman diet), which revolves around fish, grass-fed meats, veggies, fruits and nuts. Belachaikovsky is doing the “insanity workout,” which focuses on plyometrics — exercises that employ maximum muscle exertion in short time intervals.

The ECRG have also zoned in on their playbook. “One of our main team goals this entire season has been developing our adaptability,” Belachaikovsky says, which includes studying the strengths, weaknesses and styles of other teams. “We get together as a team and watch footage of previous bouts to get an idea of what their skating style is and the skaters to really watch out for on their team.”

One of the teams the ECRG is competing against is the Melbourne-based Victoria Roller Derby League (VRDL) travel team. But there is no footage to be found of the Australian team, an inadvertent but perhaps brilliant strategy. “We’re so isolated here and there’s no footage of us online that we’re really banking on that kind of wild card, dark horse element,” says Sandra O’Connor (Swish Cariboom), a jammer for VRDL, via a Skype interview. But that hasn’t kept VRDL from studying other teams. “We’re going to have a recon playbook that we’re all going to be reading on the plane. We know the line-ups: We know who the jammers are and who the blockers are. We know who gets special mention; we know how they move,” O’Connor says with a laugh.

So bring on the videos, bring on a mouth guard for the mayor — however the tournament shakes out, it looks like Eugenia is invested in becoming a new kind of Track Town.

“Roller derby is not this kind of sideline, weird sport,” Padgett says. “We’re athletes and we work really hard to play this very physically and mentally challenging game and we want some respect.” Don’t believe their dedication? Just look at the Brains. They legally took their roller derby surnames when they got married last year. If that’s not taking a sport seriously, I don’t know what is.

The Big O tournament runs May 17-19 at the Lane County Events Center. Weekend and daily passes available; $10-$50. “Date Night” passes available for the evening of Saturday, May 18, featuring bouts with all three leagues; $12 adv., $15 door. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit the bigotournament.com. 

Australian roller derby jammer Swish Cariboom (Sandra 0’Conner) biked, weight-trained
and did plyometrics to train for The Big O. Image courtesy Carmen Jay.

Talk Derby To Me

Some keywords and phrases to know before heading to The Big O tournament

Bout: A single roller derby “game” or “match.”

Flat track: An ellipse-shaped track without elevated banks.

Jam: Bouts are split up into jams — a two-minute period where jammers can score points.

Jammer: The skater who can score points by lapping the rest of the skaters on the track. Jammers are identified by a helmet with a star on it.

Blocker: Skater who obstructs the opposing team’s jammer or blocks other blockers from obstructing her jammer.

Pack: The group of blockers from both teams on the track.

Crossover: Used for turning, the motion of crossing one skate over another to maintain speed.

Lap: To pass through a pack of skaters by one full lap of the track.

Target zone: The areas on an opponent’s body that a blocker can legally hit: arms, hands, chest (front and side), hips and thigh.

Blocking zone: The area of a blockers body they can use to hit a target zone: arms (from elbow to shoulder), torso, hips, butt and thighs.

Whip: When one skater uses another skater’s momentum to propel forward.

Derby wife/husband: A roller derby “soulmate” who cheers and supports their wife/husband unconditionally.