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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

On Monday night the Gainesville Roller Rebels Swamp City Sirens laced up their skates to practice.

In a few days, they’ll be racing around the track, blocking and vying for scoring position against their fierce rivals, the All City Roller Hunnies. Roller derby may not get the ESPN primetime slot, but the GRR Swamp City Sirens are dedicated. Ranging from late teens to late 40s, the Sirens drove all the way to Ocala from school, work and family to practice for Saturday’s bout. It is the GRR’s 10th anniversary and the last bout of the season.

The bout will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Gainesville MLK Multipurpose Center at 1028 NE 14th St. Tickets for the game are available for $10 at the door or $8 in advance from Sweet Dreams Ice Cream, Wild Iris Books, Volta Coffee, Tea & Chocolate and

“Coconut Slaughter,” known outside the rink as Courtney Figueira, has been with GRR for a year and a half. Figueira had always wanted to try roller derby, but access and fear kept her from the sport until she took a job in Gainesville and “decided to do something scary.”

“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done that I didn’t quit,” Figueira said.

Difficult? Yes, but not mean, Figueira explained. She said that’s the biggest misconception about the sport. There is no punching or throwing elbows — that’s all illegal. Although roller derby is a full-contact sport, it’s full of strategy and finesse, like solving an equation, Figueira said.

Marilee Griffin goes by “Red Daring” when she’s with her Siren sisters. When Griffin attended her first bout a year and a half ago, she was drawn to the energy and fun of the sport. She joined the team soon after.

“It’s the environment, the camaraderie,” Griffin said. “A group of self-possessed women focused on something other than looks … There’s no insecurity here.”

At practice, Katie Zarada keeps the team on track with drills and encouragement. Skating under the moniker “Trouble Helix,” Zarada is one of three captains for the Sirens. Zarada, who played water polo and rugby during her time at the University of Georgia, rediscovered her love of teamwork when she became a Siren.

Many of these women barely knew how to skate when they joined the GRR family. Zarada thinks that’s what is special about the team: the people. She said each player begins confused about the sport and the rules, but the team takes them under its wing.

“I think (people) are wrong when they say they can’t do it,” Zarada said. “It’s a community that fosters learning.”

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