Local roller derby squad crushes fast-track competition

Ryan Ogle

Hardly a new phenomenon, roller derby is experiencing a surge in popularity around Topeka thanks to a group of local women collectively known as The Capital City Crushers.

Formed in the summer of 2007, the Crushers are Topeka’s lone women’s lat track roller derby team and, to put it bluntly, they kick butt and take names.

Far removed from the fixed, glamor-laden bouts that were featured on late-night TV in the ‘70s and ‘80s, roller derby has become an organized and highly competitive sport in recent years.

Olivia Marshall, a senior mass media major at Washburn, joined the team a little over a year ago after being invited to practice by a friend.

“I didn’t know anything about derby at all. I really didn’t even know how to skate,” Marshall said. “But I showed up to every practice and trained with the team.”

While she only participated in two bouts last season, Marshall is ready to go all-in with the Crushers when the 2015 kicks off next month. To get ready to rumble, Marshall spent the off-season getting physically and mentally prepping herself.

“I haven’t ever really been an athlete, but you kind of have to be,” Marshall said. “Even though the jams are only two minutes long, it’s a really intense two minutes. I started lifting weights at the gym, which helped me get enough strength and endurance to compete.”

Junior environmental biology major Caitlin Haggard has been with the Crushers since 2009 and recently put the skates back on after serving as coach for the last two seasons. Like Marshall, Haggard knew little about roller derby before being invited to a practice and hasn’t looked back since.

Skating under the on-track alias of Seam Rip-Her, a nod to her job as a seamstress, Haggard has discovered a world of growth and accomplishment through roller derby. And it’s a world she encourages everyone to experience.

“A lot of women who come into derby join because they’re missing something in their life,” Haggard said. “They need a hobby, a workout or something fun to do. They may have had a loss in their life or a divorce, so derby helps fill that void and empowers them. We put a lot of focus on being all-inclusive, regardless of age, body type or athletic ability. We train players from the ground up and put a lot of emphasis on what your body can do and what it’s capable of doing, instead of what it looks like and how much you weigh.”

Physical benefits aside, Haggard sees roller derby as a cathartic experience that she, along with many other women, have used to unlock previously unseen personal potential.

“People may be timid off the track, but can come into derby and be accepted no matter what. You can really open up and be yourself. It’s a very supportive place where you can let your true personality out,” Haggard said. “We have business professionals, nurses, teachers; we have a lot of teachers on the team coming in with all this pent-up anger they can let out on the track. You don’t have to hide anything or hold back on the track.”

The Crushers season opener will take place on Sunday, March 8 at Sk8Away, located at 815 SW Fairlawn Rd.

For details and ticket information, visit www.capitalcitycrushers.net.