Columbia reclaims a source of strong female expression with the CoMo Derby Dames
The CoMo Derby Dames promote athleticism and female empowerment through their unorthodox sport.
Oct. 21, 2015
The CoMo Derby Dames found a new home in Columbia after years away, and they couldn’t be happier.
“We finally found the Columbia Canine Center, but before that, we had been in Jefferson City, and it was really difficult to get fans to come out and watch,” says Kelly Draehn, also known as “Henni Brawlins” in the roller derby world.
She plays “jammer,” scoring points by passing opposing players, on one of the home teams. Draehn also works as the beginners’ course coordinator.
The transition to their new home was far from easy. The team had to raise almost $15,000 to make it happen. Draehn says the work was completely worth it.
“Things have really been turning around this season with that new venue,” she says.
Derby Dames is a much larger organization than most might think. Skaters from different levels of competition can work their way up to the All Stars team, and many of the them work behind the scenes in committees to help everything run smoothly.
For example, Heather Gibb, or “DeeFlesher,” is a member of the All Star team and the executive board.
“Within the league, we have multiple teams that work together competing against either outside teams or against ourselves,” Gibb says.
These teams also include the B Team, “T-Rex,” and their two home teams, the “Brass Knuckle Betties” and the “Astronaughties.”
CoMo Derby Dames draws many team members from Columbia’s colleges and universities, as well as from the town itself.
“I got a lot better at time management once I started doing this because I’m also working on my dissertation, and I teach classes, and just this week I started another full-time job,” says Gibb, who teaches biology at MU.
Draehn enjoys the Derby Dames because it’s empowering.
“I’m an engineer, so a lot of times I find myself in male-dominated groups, and I always end up having a tendency to step back because people don’t like you very much when you’re a strong woman,” she said. “It’s nice to come to practice and be really aggressive and that be prized rather than frowned upon.”
This shared experience of female empowerment is highly valued in the Derby Dames. Women not only fill all the leadership roles, but also all the top team positions as well.
During the 1990s, roller derby was viewed and played as a performance sport of the same vein as professional wrestling today, but the sport has since become much more.
“It’s not fake,” Draehn says. “That is the thing I get the most. It’s this idea that it’s a façade that’s just about the sexualization of women, and that’s really not what it is. It’s a real sport with real rules that is about female empowerment.”
The Columbia team is also a space for formerly non-athletic women to transform themselves.
“You have to get used to all the soreness that comes along with really pushing yourself, but it’s that amazing kind of soreness where you’re like, ‘Man, I really did something awesome, and I’m going to keep doing it until I don’t feel sore anymore,’” Gibb says.
She says that almost a third of the team carries inhalers, but that her athletic asthma will never prevent her from playing roller derby for as long as she wants to.
“I had never viewed myself as a strong, athletic person before I started playing derby, so a lot of it has been getting in that mindset of learning that I am very physically capable, and I am capable of being very strong,” Draehn says.
The Derby Dames competed again Cape Girardeau Roller Girls on Oct. 17 in their last home bout of the season. They won 144-43.