The Boulder County Bombers Roller Derby League (BCB) is a widespread group of empowered women who use this sport to build up their community and lead active, healthy lifestyles. Roller derby is also one of the fastest-growing sports in the world according to sources from the BBC and Business Insider.
However, despite their ongoing growth and popularity, roller derby leagues continue to face many obstacles. Just last summer, the league’s practice space underwent an electrical fire, and the entire building burned to the ground. The fire was extremely devastating and a huge loss for BCB. Since then they have been utilizing temporary space and working hard to regroup.
Roller derby was established by and for women; it is also the only female-dominated professional contact sport. These women are not afraid to pummel and knock each other down; after all, that is the goal of the game. However, even though games look extremely rough and aggressive in nature, behind the scenes are groups of women who provide constant support for one another. In the instance that someone falls to the ground, there is always a teammate ready to pick her back up. In the aftermath of the fire, the women of BCB stuck together and continue to work hard in an effort to find a new, permanent space for their practices and scrimmages.
Chelsea Pohl is BCB’s league president, and she explained that there are actually several different teams of various skill levels. The teams are ranked by experience and proficiency; the BCB All-Stars represent the most skilled players (A-team); the Bombshells are the mid-level girls (B-team), and The Screaming Mimis are considered amateur players (C-team). Many girls who join the league are not experienced skaters, but the beauty of Boulder County Bombers is that they appeal to skaters of all levels from beginner to competitive.
In fact, someone could walk in with absolutely zero experience and learn all the ins and outs of roller derby. Known as ‘The Phases,’ BCB offers an eight-week skating course (phase one) as well as an eight-week roller derby course (phase two) for anyone interested.
After skaters pass a test, they are placed on a team that is suited to their individual skill level. Teams practice different competencies such as offense, defense, and troubleshooting different strategies. The introductory courses, as well as the league itself, are set up to teach skaters safe techniques.
Pohl painted an unfortunate picture when she described the struggle that every team in the league has faced trying to commute to their temporary practice spaces. Currently, their league has a warehouse in Longmont that they use, but it’s pretty small for their purposes. There is another space they are able to utilize in Brighton, but that means the girls have to drive an hour out of the way to skate in a bigger space. Not having adequate access to a viable facility makes Phase practices and other team activities harder to schedule and execute. As a result, BCB loses some of their ability to retain skaters, which is how they build camaraderie amongst league participants.
“We spent quite a bit of time and effort regrouping and finding new places to skate,” said Pohl. “Roller derby demands a lot of time, not only practicing three times a week, but now we drive an hour to practice spaces, and that ends up being around five hours of commuting a week. Many women in the league also have to dedicate time towards leadership and volunteer roles to keep the derby going, but we do it because we love it.”
So, you may be asking yourself, what makes roller derby so special to inspire such dedication from the women involved? It might be easier to walk away if they didn’t love and care about not only each other, but the sport itself. Roller derby is so important to the women who are involved and has become a resource to the surrounding community.
As Pohl put it, “It’s about trying something that gives someone a home. Roller derby gave me something that I never thought I could do and a group to support me through life’s struggles.”
BCB is actively committed to making the Boulder County community more vibrant, welcoming, inclusive, healthy, and athletic. Many BCB skaters volunteer in their free time including in county and city-sponsored programs and at community events. For the past few years, they have been involved in and had a booth at their local Pride events in Boulder and Longmont. This past year, members of BCB even skated in the Denver Pride Parade. Pohl clarified the importance of having a presence at pride focused events so that folks know that BCB (and roller derby) are welcoming and inclusive organizations.
Skaters on BCB’s league such as Taylor Carranza are proud to be part of a community that is so welcoming towards LGBTQ skaters through both policy and cultural inclusion. BCB is a part of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, which is the largest international organization for roller derby. The WFTDA upholds a gender inclusion policy for anyone who identifies as a woman or gender expansive, making sure that women’s roller derby is an environment where everyone fits in and feels accepted. Carranza explained that while there is still plenty of room for growth, both BCB and WFTDA have been working hard to be active in inclusion and equity of LGBTQ members.
Carranza, known in the league as Slayer, has been in the BCB league for five years now and in that time has built a strong community and family.
“I did not realize at the time just how much roller derby would grow to be more than a sport to me. It has empowered me by helping me grow further in my queer and nonbinary identities and through building meaningful adult friendships. In a world where it is really hard to make adult friends, especially LGBTQ-supportive-and-identified friends, roller derby has really given me community. I have never been in a non-LGBTQ-specific community that so openly welcomes me, especially a sport. When my wife (who skates with BCB too) and I got married, almost half of the people at our wedding were from roller derby,” she said.
The Boulder County Bombers have games consistently in Boulder, Denver, and cities across the country. In fact, September 20 through 22 marked the second-annual Thin Air Throwdown hosted by BCB and the Denver Roller Derby. The Throwdown is a derby event that hosts the best skaters from around the world who all come together for an amazing, three-day weekend.
The league depends on the support and funding they get from their surrounding communities which is how they are able to put on events such as the Throwdown. Despite all their struggles and roadblocks, the women involved with BCB continue to shine with resilience, and their family on wheels always has room to grow.
Photos by Sophia Gabrielson