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June 26, 2017

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Roller derby gaining in popularity outside US

STERLING, Virginia -- Adrienne Schreiber curls down her lower lip to reveal "SF1" inked in black — a tattoo celebrating Scare Force One, a tribe of fierce Washington women on roller skates.

When they get together, they push, shove and — above all — win.

Bureaucrats, teachers and scientists, the women who compete in roller derby — an American game that is quickly gaining traction abroad — come from all walks of life.

But to take part is not merely to don skates and score points.

On a recent Saturday afternoon in a sportsplex in Sterling, Virginia, a suburb of the U.S. capital, the DC All-Stars A team — drawn from the area's four teams including Scare Force One — competed against the Vixens from Canada's Rideau Valley Roller Girls league.

This is a full-contact sport with jostling, bumping and hitting — so long as it isn't done with the elbows, forearm, hands, head or lower legs.

It is not for the faint of heart or spirit.

As each team of five races around the track, the "jammer" pushes ahead of the pack in an attempt to lap the other team's players. After an initial pass, points are scored with each opposing player the jammer passes.

Team-themed tattoos and frequent injuries are common, as are tough personalities and derby pseudonyms. Condoleezza Slice and Nasty Pelosi — puns on the names of two of Washington's most powerful women — play in the area.

The 31-year-old Schreiber — who last year opened Washington's first-ever derby shop, Department of Skate — competes under the name Velocityraptor.

From Mexico to Malaysia

Roller derby, which got its start in 1930s Chicago, has had peaks and valleys of popularity and a brief period in the 1970s full of theatrical stunts and storylines similar to those in professional wrestling.

"I think women really stuck with derby because it was an early sport where they were on the same track as men," said James Vannurden, curator of the National Museum of Roller Skating in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), the governing body under which many teams operate, had just a couple dozen leagues when it began 10 years ago, all of them in the United States.

Today, there are 243 full-member leagues, according to WFTDA public relations manager Kali Schumitz. The organization also has 101 apprentice leagues that are training to join the competition ranks.

And until just a few years ago, non-American teams were rare.

But WFTDA leagues now exist in South America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. The website counts 1,307 women's flat-track leagues worldwide, from Mexico to Malaysia.

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