When you sign up for a roller derby team, you know that eventually you'll be cruisin' for a bruisin'.
Holly Creel, a neophyte skater, found that out the hard way while practicing at The Wrecking Yard, the Santa Rosa home of the Wine Country HomeWreckers and North Bay Bruisers teams.
"I'm such a newbie that I skate a lot slower than everybody. But you can hold onto the girl ahead of you," Creel said. "She was skating really fast, and I totally lost control and her momentum flung me straight into the wall."
When Creel looked up, her coach told her she had put a hole in the wall. Her admiring teammates swiftly dubbed her WallBreaker and gave her the number 4x4. Creel was philosophical about the incident.
"I'm not afraid of pain," she said. "I'm still fresh meat and I'm learning the ropes, but I'm sticking with it and pushing through."
Like the other women on the team, Creel is a busy, working mom who craves a little "me" time in her week and wants to get back in shape.
"You get good exercise and it's fun, but it's not like joining a gym," Creel said. "You're on a team, and you have a goal and you're part of a community."
The mostly female team often provides child-care for their skaters in an upstairs room.
"When I was doing try-outs, they actually hired a babysittter for my 2-year-old," Creel said. "In this culture, it's really hard to find people who are that supportive of having kids."
Another new skater, Lindsay Smith of Cloverdale, joined the team because she needed an outlet to counteract the stress of her job as an attorney. She's also the mother of two boys, ages 9 and 13.
"This is my one form of entertainment," she said. "I tried out every team, and this one fit my schedule the best."
The Wine Country HomeWreckers and the North Bay Bruisers are the premier teams in the Sonoma County Roller Derby League, founded in 2007. Along with two other partners, Katy "Lady Sparks" Caldwell is turning a former furniture store on Mendocino Avenue into a skating rink where the team can eventually hold their home bouts.
While the flat track is already in place for practices, plans call for knocking out a wall and putting VIP seats upstairs for watching the bouts.
In the 1950s and '60s, women's roller derby was played on a banked wooden track, and the televised sport was full of slam-bam, over-the-top theatrics. After dying out for a few decades, roller derby caught on again in Texas as a flat-track sport in 2003. It's now played by more than 1,000 leagues worldwide.
In its newest incarnation, roller derby has become an athletic competition, complete with rules, divisions and annual tournaments, all governed by the Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA).
"It's all real," Caldwell said. "We wear wristguards, elbow and knee pads, helmets and mouth guards."
According to the league's chiropractor, Darius Bunyad of Health Performance Chiropractic in Santa Rosa, the flat track provides a more even playing field.
"Without the banked tracks, they don't hit as hard," he said. "The person can't come down from above."
But the potential for injury is still there, Bunyard said, especially to the knees and ankles. His advice is for skaters to get in shape before hitting the track.