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JBLM roller-derby team takes on Cog Blockers

The Bettie Brigade mixed it up with the Trampires, one of the teams in Tacoma’s Dockyard Derby Dames, at the end of last season. Photo credit: Jason Garland

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When you see them in the rink, roller derby dames look pretty tough. They push. They shove. They suffer bruises and broken bones. They adopt derby names to telegraph their toughness.

The women of the Bettie Brigade, Joint Base Lewis-McChord's roller-derby team, are no exception. The team opens its season Saturday with a bout against Bellingham's Cog Blockers.

"It's one of those things - knock down or be knocked down," said Abigail Rael, known in the rink as Sergeant Severe. "I'd rather be the one knocking someone down."

But the Betties and their ilk have a sweet side, too.

"I've really fallen in love with the culture," said Capt. Rebecca "BeX" Hsia, the team's co-captain. "It's a family, and it's very accepting. That's why I stuck with it."

The Brigade has between 35 and 40 members, ranging in age from 18 to late-40s. They're united by their connection to the military and love of the sport, and that bond continues outside the rink.

Teams volunteer their time, hold fundraisers and support one another, both within and across teams. Experienced players share their skills freely at camps and clinics, and many teams hold open scrimmages where all skaters are welcome.

"The whole roller-derby community is very tight-knit," Hsia said. And there are teams on many bases, meaning that military skaters generally have a new team - a new family - waiting for them when they arrive at a post.

Part of being family is taking care of each other, and skaters often raise money for medical care for those who get injured, which is not uncommon, since physical contact is a big part of the game.

"I've gotten a ton of bruises," said Rael, who husband, Staff Sgt. Gerald Rael, is stationed at JBLM. "Last season, I dislocated my ankle during a game."

Points are scored during two-minute jams. One player on each team is designated the jammer and attempts to lap the skaters on the other team. The rest of the team skaters defend their jammer while trying to hinder the other team's.

"I really love contact sports," said Hsia, who grew up playing soccer, then switched to rugby in college. "I've been playing sports since I was about five."

For her, roller derby was a natural step. She started skating while stationed in Korea and has been a Bettie for the past two years.

For Rael, though, roller derby was a bit of a stretch. She began skating on a whim with the Betties when the team formed in 2010.

"I was kind of making fun of it," she said. "I said to my husband, ‘Can you imagine these catty girls knocking each other down?' and he was like, ‘I think you could be pretty good at it. I think you'd be pretty tough.'

"He was totally wrong," she said. "I was awful. I'm sure no one expected me to come back after the first practice. I could barely stand up on skates."

But she's come a long way since then and is now blocking with the best as well as leading the team. "Before that, I would not have said I was athletically inclined," she said. "I got knocked down for years before I started knocking people down."

Bettie Brigade vs. Cog Blockers, 7 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 27, Rollin' 253 Skate and Community Center, 2101 Mildred St. W., Fircrest, $10 from a skater or $15 at the door, free for children 8 and younger,

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