Central New York, Sports

Assault City Roller Derby players find the heart in a brutal game

By Ben Mitchell SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) – Since 2007, Assault City Roller Derby has represented the city of Syracuse in the popular and growing sport of roller derby. Its members compete regularly in bouts against teams from all over central New York and across the state.

The team boasts roughly 20 members, but it’s membership fluctuates regularly due to injury. Derby is notoriously violent and dangerous. Serious contusions, broken bones, muscle tears – all are common injuries associated with a sport that is notorious, and celebrated, for its brutal nature. In that regard, the sport requires a specific type of person.

“Being a part of derby is about confidence. You’ve got to come out and you’ve got to not be afraid to get hit. It’s a lot of learning how to fall correctly and trusting your teammates,” said team member Primal Instinct, who chose her roller derby name (just like every person who participates).

While the sport is growing – there are teams in almost every city in the state and around the country – it’s still non-professional, which creates an interesting dynamic for the players.

“It’s not a professional sport. None of us are getting paid to do this. We actually pay dues to do this,” said team member Espirit de Corpse.

For those that play, derby is a labor of love. Getting involved means paying to play and putting ones body on the line for a sport that some would consider a strange hobby. Still, derby provides a thrill and an experience that some people cannot deny.

“I really like the hitting more than anything. It’s a really good stress relief,” said Assault City player Hella Paino (pronounced jalapeño).

Assault City treats its players like family. Each player cites the bonds forged in practice and on the track as important parts of their lives. The confidence and trust they build in one another makes playing the sport more than just an exciting way to blow off some steam – it’s an exercise in friendship.

“”It’s a place that we can go and we don’t have to put our feminine side out all the time. This is a place where we can be a little more aggressive,” says Hella Paino.

As the team gets ready to celebrate its tenth anniversary, it also looks forward to the future of the sport. Assault City recently held a bout with the Swedish national team, and has planned six bouts in Syracuse at the OnCenter for the spring and summer season. For the sport, the opportunities on the horizon look promising. The sport’s international governing body is constantly adding new membership, and is eyeing a shot at getting recognition in a future Olympic Games.