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Girls on Wheels: Roller derby picks up speed

Almost overnight, Melissa “Jinx LaRue” Johnson has turned roller derby from an afterthought in the Valdosta community to a fully functioning sports team with a practice facility for girls to come and compete.

Johnson—founder, owner and team captain of Valdosta Venom, LLC— and her team are skating through Valdosta attempting to bring notoriety and publicity to roller derby.

Roller derby is an all female contact sport that involves skating around a rink as a team while one designated player, the “jammer”, and her teammates lap an opposing team. This dynamic combines offense and defense into one simultaneous, action-filled spectacle for fans.

“Roller derby is an amazing and fun sport to play and inspire a young woman’s confidence,” Johnson said. “It creates a sisterhood and family-like atmosphere for girls who would never probably meet in any other setting.”

LeeAnn Varvel, freshman undecided major, is also enthusiastic about the sport.

“If I could, I would go out and play roller derby,” she said. “Roller derby is positive reinforcement for girls like me to go out and have confidence in everything whether it is in academics and life or on the rink clothes lining other girls. It sounds like it would be a lot of fun to do.”

Young women are being asked to bring their bottled up and untapped urges for excitement, physicality and fun to sign up for roller derby. Men can sign up to referee official matches between teams.

Venom is currently looking for new members whom they like to call “Fresh Meat.”

“The more Fresh Meat, the better,” Johnson said. “We want girls to experience fun on a competitive level and that’s what roller derby provides.”

Johnson has turned her life-long passion into a growing sport in the Valdosta area.

“I always loved roller derby and it became an outlet to relieve stress for me,” Johnson said. “I had some friends that also liked it. Within one week I had a team set up and in a month, I had a practice facility for us to train in Moultrie.”

Roller derby is a fast-paced sport that requires quick thinking and keen awareness by all team members to keep the other team from victory and their teammates safe. Injuries are frequent and without coordination, practice and keeping your eyes peeled, serious injury may occur.

“Girls shouldn’t take this sport lightly,” Johnson said. “You’re bound to get hurt. I’ve seen a girl break her ankle underestimating her opponents and not taking roller derby seriously. Most injuries are just minor bumps and bruises because it is a contact sport. People get knocked down and fall a lot as a part of the game. It’s a lot of fun but it takes focus, trust in teammates and determination.”

Johnson plans to start practices within the first two weeks of February.

She can be reached at valdostavenom_rollerderby@live.com or facebook.com/ValdostaVenomRoller-Derby.

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