Arts & Life, Features

‘Roller derby saved my soul,’ Badfish Roller Derby members share their love for the sport

Beads of sweat line the forehead of Emily Cladinos, her face flushed as her gaze locks on the tight huddle of roller skaters in her path.

Cladinos pushes off, jamming her body through gaps of interlocked arms to move past the huddle of blockers. It is a fight between sets of arms, hips and roller skates as Cladinos and the blockers push against each other until she darts around them, claiming momentary victory before she takes a hard fall and lands on her stomach and forearms.

But it doesn’t take long for Cladinos to get back on her wheels.

This scene occurs over and over again at Cherry Park, where Long Beach-based roller derby league Badfish Roller Derby practices Thursday nights.

Although Badfish is a smorgasbord of pros and “guppies,” the challenges these members overcome on the track and in their lives make roller derby all the more important.

Krystie Ritchey, or Midwest Threat, joined a roller derby league in January 2018 when she lived in Indiana. The first day of boot camp was the week she was cleared by her doctor to exercise, as Ritchey gave birth six weeks prior. Roller derby offered Ritchey family, community and an opportunity to have much needed time for herself.

“It’s really helped me with knowing that I can do hard things,” Ritchey said. “With my first son I had postpartum depression and I didn’t have a lot of support, but with my second son, being a part of derby really helped offset that because I had that time to myself. It helped me keep postpartum depression away.”

Throughout the evening, skaters trade compliments about their workout leggings before crouching low to block a jammer trying to skate past them. During their drills, they shout “You got this!” to each other and cheer at impressive footwork.

When Cladinos researched the roller derby community, she already knew what she was missing in her life. She needed to be around a group of girls.

For Jennifer Garcia, or Pee-Chee the FoldHer, roller derby was a haven after an incident with law enforcement left her disillusioned about the justice system. When Garcia saw an ad for roller derby on Groupon, she decided that she could benefit from a new experience.

“They’ve seen the change,” Garcia said as she recalled some of her friends’ remarks since joining roller derby. “They’ve seen the change and how far I’ve come.”

Although roller derby helped the lives of skaters like Ritchey and Garcia, newer Badfish member Jennifer Woolf explained the beast she called roller derby.

Woolf, who experienced a torn shoulder and a thumb injury at her former league, sat out at practice to relax an agitated arm.

“The hardest part is how do I deal with the fear of sticking my skates back on?” Woolf said.

Badfish, whose name was inspired by a song by Sublime, recently took a blow after it was informed in December 2019 that its shared roller rink with RebelTown Rollers at Arnold Park in Cypress was to be repurposed into a pickleball court. Suddenly, the team was displaced while the new season quickly approached.

Members and supporters of Badfish and RebelTown Rollers took to Cypress’s City Council meeting on Jan. 13 to express their disappointment over the city’s decision and lack of communication. In the meantime, Badfish is using three parks to hold practices.

Like Cladinos, Badfish Roller Derby stood back up and kept skating.

“There’s this saying, ‘Roller derby saved my soul,’” Garcia said. “It’s very empowering. It’s just a great outlet.”

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