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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Roller derby team becomes a space for UF graduate students to skate stress away

Students find a community in a competitive sport

Moving on a set of skates is not unusual to the members of the Gainesville Roller Rebels. With helmets and heavy padding on their elbows and knees, they look like a cavalry in armor. Each skater has an infectious passion and, more importantly, a clever nickname. 

The Gainesville Roller Rebels is a roller derby team that was established in 2007 and has become a way for community members to not only stay active but also build confidence. The league prides itself on its inclusivity to women, nonbinary and transgender people. 

New skaters can enroll in classes and then transition into being part of the derby team, become volunteers or be referees. 

Right now, the league is trying to find a permanent practice space. It has practiced in schools, basketball courts and outdoors. Sometimes, members carry heavy tiles to indoor practice spaces to have a smooth surface to skate on. 

However, skaters often get their wheels caught on the tape used to hold the tiles down. League members want a bigger space so they can continue working on building a larger community of skaters in Gainesville.

In a sport often viewed as aggressive and overly competitive, the Roller Rebels are all about community. 

Pauline “Sic O. Spellcheck” Cline is a 30-year-old member of GRR’s board of directors. She fell in love with roller derby after watching the 2009 film “Whip It” starring Elliot Page. After moving to Gainesville in 2019, she decided to search for a roller derby team. 

She participated in GRR’s new skater class, a 10-week program that teaches rookie skaters how to move on wheels and the basics of roller derby. She was hooked immediately, she said. She went from being an inexperienced new skater to having a leadership position in the league. 

“When I joined in 2019, I really was a totally different person,” Cline said. “I’m so much more confident in myself and my own voice.” 

GRR provides a “very specific space where women and queer individuals and non-binary individuals can be themselves and find their confidence in sports,” she said. 

GRR is continuing to grow. Cline said the pandemic led to the team losing a lot of players. Because Gainesville is a “transitional place,” meaning members come and go to university, the team’s size fluctuates often. Last year, it had almost 30 new members join. 

Emily Vu, nicknamed “Satan’s Little Hellper,” signed up for the new skater class in Fall 2023 and joined the derby team as a rookie in January 2024. 

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Because of GRR, the 25-year-old UF Ph.D. student in the genetics and genomics program said she’s not afraid to fail. Derby practices often consist of falling, tripping and getting knocked down. It’s a lesson she’s taken with her when she’s not wearing padding or a helmet, she said. 

“Whatever experiment or anything that you are afraid of failing at, you can just get back up and do it again,” she said. 

Julieth Gómez, a 32-year-old UF biomedical engineering Ph.D. student, goes by the derby name “Neurotoxica.” She joined the new skater class in Spring 2023 when signup was free for graduate students. Originally from Colombia, she said she was grateful for the community she found on the team.

Her research can get stressful, so she often looks forward to practicing. 

“I don’t even look forward to anything else at this point,” she said. 

She found the team’s positive attitude encouraging, especially when she was learning about how the sport works. 

“They never make you feel like a disappointment,” she said. “They’re going to celebrate every tiny victory that you have in the team.”

“Tyrannosaurus Wrecks” or “T-Wrecks,” also used GRR as a way to stay active and meet new people after moving to Gainesville in August last year. Their real name is Hannah Munro, and they’re a 29-year-old UF veterinary student. They’ve enjoyed the judgment-free zone, especially while they work their way up the ranks of the team. 

Munro said it gives students like them a space to work on something other than research and classes. 

“We’re all suffering through this together,” they said. “It’s fun to not think about school.”

While they love skating, it’s not always easy to balance a busy week with finals and going to practice. Nonetheless, they make it a habit to go to practice when they can. 

“You’re working your body and not your brain,” they said.

Even with the bruises on their tailbone after the number of tumbles they can take during practice, Munro wants new members to see that the sport that can appear intimidating is a lot of fun. 

Lauren Goboff, a 27-year-old UF occupational therapy Ph.D. student, goes by “Daisy Me’Rolling” when she’s in a helmet and a pair of skates. She had been interested in roller derby since high school. While looking for something to do outside of her grad program, she stumbled upon GRR’s new skater classes. 

She got involved and enjoyed the company so much that she now has a derby wife, or a person you’re closest with on the team. The relationship may be platonic, but the commitment feels as if they’re truly together ‘til death do them part. 

She and her derby wife are both graduate students. She and other graduate students on the team have to balance essays, papers and exams with their derby practices.

“At the end of the day, real life still exists outside of the rink,” she said.

In her eyes, she’s simply applying what she’s learning in her classes. 

It’s not just about people who “strap wheels on your feet and run into each other,” Goboff said. “It’s really become an important part of all of our lives.”

Contact Delia Rose Sauer at drosesauer@alligator.org. Follow her on X @_delia_rose_.


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Delia Rose Sauer

Delia Rose Sauer is a second-year journalism major and the graduate & professional school reporter for The Alligator. In her free time, she loves drawing, crocheting and exploring music genres.


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