Karla Babcock Wissman, aka Karma Bomb, and Jennifer Cooper, Storm Cooper, talk about the gains and the pains of being on a roller derby team.
Photo by Nan Babcock
By Nan Babcock
Anyone looking for a different kind of entertainment can watch two Dodge Center area natives rocking and rolling with Rochester's women's roller derby team, the Med City Mafia.
Karla Babcock Wissman and Jennifer Cooper have found an outlet for their energy on the roller derby team, which was established in August, 2011.
Karla joined in April 2012 after a friend from her Dodge County girls' hockey team posted a recruitment notice on facebook. When Karla saw it, she knew she had to go. "I'm drawn to the unique, and the derby is just that," she said. "I needed opportunities to socialize with people my own age who weren't cookie-cutter copies. I also needed an outlet for stress. Derby gives me both and then some."
Karla ice skated and rollerbladed when she was growing up, and her hockey experience was valuable. "My forward and backward crossovers are really good, and for that I have Jessica Sanders, my hockey teammate, to thank." Some new skills she's learned include hitting, booty blocking and lateral skating.
In a roller derby bout, each team has a jammer and five blockers. The jammers try to score points by passing the blockers. Karla has served in both positions. "There's a lot of strategy to derby, not to mention a lot going on, physically. I have a hard time remembering what strategy to use when Big Bertha's trying to crush my pelvis."
Jennifer became a member of the Mafia this spring. "I joined the team because I had some extra time on my hands and had always wanted to do derby," she said. "Every time I've watched a roller derby bout it looked like they were having so much fun! I love fun and I love being physically active, so it seemed like a good fit."
Jen had no roller skating experience when she joined the team, but plenty of experience with figure skating, hockey skating and rollerblading. She's working on the basics of roller derby and getting to know her teammates.
"I'm not going to lie, pretty much everything about roller derby has challenged me both physically and mentally," she said. "I totally idolize the veteran players on my team and I am grateful for their encouragement."
The skaters have team names that add to the fun. Karla is Karma Bomb. "I liked Karma because I'm a big believer in the concept, and it's pretty close to my real name," she noted. "I really wanted Karmakazie, but it was taken. Karma Bomb has some nice mental imagery for me."
Jen ran a poll on facebook for the names Storm Cooper and NitroJen, and Storm Cooper won. They have teammates with intimidating names such as Sister Mary Bruiser, Nurse RachHit, and Chocolate Pain.
The team practices twice a week, and competes in Rochester four to five times a year at Mayo Civic Center or Graham Arena. They are invited to bouts in other Minnesota cities such as St. Cloud, New Ulm and Moose Lake, and as far away as Wausau, Wisconsin and Davenport, Iowa. Each bout includes an after-party where fans and skaters can socialize.
The Mafia is always on the lookout for opportunities to contribute to charities, and this year the skaters decorated a tree for Hiawatha Homes' Festival of Trees. At their Nov. 2 bout, they promoted The Mitten Project, an organization that creates beautiful mittens from used sweaters and fleece, and gives them to people in need. In the past they've done the Polar Plunge and collected donations for Operation Hometown Gratitude.
To people that are interested in participating in roller derby, Jen said, "Just do it!"
"Be prepared to give a lot, it's a big commitment," Karla commented. "It's like having a second job that you have to pay to work at, but it's worth it, if your body can withstand the beating. If you stick with it, it can be rewarding on so many levels."
Bouts scheduled in Rochester this season are January 11 and April 11 at Mayo Civic Center, and March 28 and May 24 at Graham Arena. You can get updates by "liking" the team's facebook page, MedCity Mafia (roller derby team.)