The culture of Northwest Arkansas is as diverse as the gems hidden in her hills. If you asked the average American what they know about Northwest Arkansas, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who might answer “roller derby.” The reality, however, is that Northwest Arkansas has a diamond in the rough; a women’s flat track roller derby league called NWA Roller Derby.
NWA Roller Derby, or NWARD, was the first flat track league in Arkansas. NWARD is also the first Arkansas league to become a member of Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA). The women of the league keep a hearty training schedule through their derby season and compete on the national level. NWA Roller Derby is currently ranked 90th in the nation.
NWARD is made up of two teams: The All-Stars and The Natural Disasters. Both teams meet weekly at Starlight Skatium to practice. Each team dedicates over 8 hours per week to on-track training, as well as additional personal time to off-track training and conditioning.
So, what kind of women play roller derby?
I am the kind of woman who plays roller derby. One day, soon after the birth of my third child, I saw a red, white, and blue diamond sticker adorning a car. I saw these stickers all over Fayetteville and Siloam Springs and always wondered what they were about. A quick Google search landed on the NWA Roller Derby website. I quickly sent a message requesting information about what kind of women were allowed to play roller derby. I was told all were welcome to attend a boot camp called “Fresh Meat Training.” My postpartum body was ready for movement and a new challenge. Sixteen weeks later I was welcomed on to The Natural Disasters to play as “Boombox,” the derby name I earned when I passed my Minimum Skills Requirement Test.
This will be my third year as a blocker for the league, and I was recently drafted to The All Stars. NWA Roller Derby has been a safe haven for me during graduate school, relationship struggles and life transitions. The sport of roller derby and the women who make up NWARD have something incredibly special to offer those who are looking for something they can’t name.
At first sight, one might imagine that rebellious and aggressive women are drawn to the sport of roller derby. Roller derby is a high impact sport that can carry many physical risks. It has a history of being a “fringe” entertainment sport but, after a grassroots movement (led by Texas, of course), roller derby has experienced a resurgence with a laser focused emphasis on strong women athletes. While roller derby does have women who are rebellious and aggressive, the transition from spectacle to sport has drawn women seeking a unique form of empowerment. NWARD’s league alone boasts women from all walks and stages of life. When the women of NWA Roller Derby aren’t zipping around the track and hip checking the Jammer out of bounds; they are teaching at the University of Arkansas, working as Chief Executive Officers, and even serving their community as Physician’s Assistants. These women are just as smart as they are strong. NWARD has members who are scientists, physical therapists and stylists. Many of the women are mothers who arrange their schedules to make skating and caring for their families priorities.
NWA Roller Derby has drawn skaters from other cities and states to re-locate to the Northwest Arkansas area. More than that, NWARD has drawn in die hard “super fans” who even travel as far as Oregon to support their favorite team. NWA Roller Derby has corporate and small business sponsors who keep the girls rolling. More than anything else, the existence of NWA Roller Derby proves that Arkansas has more to offer than meets the eye.