During the workday, Tina Gerlach, of Dublin, spends her time focusing on new construction projects for the Dublin Unified School District. Oakland's Jen Atherley works as a marketing professional. And Nelia Gonzalez, of Tracy, is a busy property manager and loving grandmother.

Several days a week, however, when the workday ends, these three women strap on helmets, protective padding and quad skates to transform into Ginger Von Injure, Jane Hammer and HellZ NellZ, women's flat-track roller derby skaters.

Don't be fooled by the campy track names -- today's derby has morphed from the theatrical spectacle of years ago into a competitive team sport that's surging in popularity around the Bay Area and internationally. The Tri-Valley supports two teams, with others based in Berkeley, Richmond, Oakland, San Francisco and Silicon Valley. All their members are serious about competition, camaraderie and derby's new athletic legitimacy.


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"It's a revolution in every sense of the word," said Atherley, 36, events manager and coach for the B. ay A. rea D. erby Girls, a league that includes the Berkeley Resistance, Richmond Wrecking Belles, Oakland Outlaws, San Francisco ShEvil Dead and the All Stars (Golden Girls). "It's empowering, a community, a female sport and very different from what roller derby was historically, which was a corporation run by rich men that initially attracted a lot of women on the fringe of culture. Today it's athletic, it's real, and it's attracting women who've played sports their whole lives, as well as turning women into athletes who never realized they had it inside them.

"We're making history here, developing rules and creating standards."

The term "roller derby" has been around since the 1920s, when it was used to described roller skate races. By the 1930s, derby was evolving from marathon races on a raised track to a more physical competition, focusing on skater collisions and falls. Skated by both men and women, it eventually morphed into a team sport, which began to be televised in the 1940s. By the 1960s, competing franchises were in place, with many emphasizing theatrics rather than true competition. As interest dwindled in the 1970s, there were efforts to revive roller derby, often with stunts ranging from staged action to alligator pits.

Women's modern flat-track derby gained traction in the early 2000s, with new leagues formed as businesses by women. These skaters marked a track on a skating rink floor or other venue, which made it possible for anyone to skate without the need to build large and expensive banked tracks. By 2010, there were more than 400 leagues worldwide.

"Roller derby has grown so much," said Gonzalez, 43, founder of the Tri-Valley Roller Girls, which was established in June 2011 and includes skaters from Dublin, Livermore and Tracy. "When I tried to locate a team seven years ago, there weren't that many, and now there are so many teams and so many people willing to help others. There's so much interest in it."

That interest comes from women of all ages and in all walks of life. Skaters range in age from 18 to women in their 40s and include lawyers, bankers, tech professionals, stay-at-home moms, nurses and teachers. Some are former college athletes while others have never been part of a team or put on a roller skate. Derby leagues and individual teams offer ongoing training for team members as well as new recruits, and newbies aren't allowed to participate in games, or "bouts," until they pass skill tests.

"People think this is all a group of aggressive, tough girls, but that is far from the truth," said Gerlach, 41, of the Tri-Valley Roller Girls. "We have some girls who are very sweet and quiet, but when you get them on the track, they're superstars. You don't have to be an aggressive person to do well. It's about teamwork."

The basic rules seem simple: Four skaters from each team -- "blockers" -- form an eight-woman pack. Behind them, each team positions a "jammer," whose job it is to break through the pack, scoring points for each member of the opposing team they pass. Pack members try to help their team's jammer pass by while simultaneously blocking the opposing team's jammer.

"It looks like a melee," Gerlach said. "But there are huge strategies and plays that we run. In roller derby, every player is playing both offense and defense at the same time."

The Quad City Derby Bombshells also skate in the Tri-Valley, drawing members from cities including Pleasanton, Livermore, Walnut Creek, San Leandro, Castro Valley and Dublin. Founded in 2012, its 11 members include two cancer survivors, one of whom is general manager Brandy Beamenderfer.

"I joined for the outlet; I have three children and a full-time job," she said. "It makes you feel healthy; it brings your body back and just makes you feel good inside. I've been in remission for two years. I love being a survivor and for (the team) to be able to go to cancer events and talk to the women there."

Previously known for the skaters' edgy makeup and attire, today's teams are ratcheting back those aspects, said Bri Mamuzich-Waddell, president of the Silicon Valley Roller Girls league, which has players from cities including Hayward, Fremont, San Jose, Mountain View, Redwood City, Gilroy and Morgan Hill.

"All that is slowly going away," she said. "The more skaters who come in, the more we want to get recognized as a sport, and less like a show, and the more the skaters are using their real names and getting away from alter egos. Teams are now using full uniforms rather than booty shorts and crazy makeup. The higher-level competitors have pulled away from that."

The push toward the athletic, competitive aspect of derby has resulted in many teams and leagues forming junior derby teams for girls 7 to 17 years old, she added.

"These girls may not be great at basketball or baseball, but this may be something they can excel at," Mamuzich-Waddell said. "It seems like a sport where anybody can fit in, no matter their size, age or ability. There's a place for you."

For the most part, derby attracts women interested in competitive sport in an accepting environment, Gerlach said.

"It has so much to offer women," she said. "It's nice to have something by women and for women; something you work together for. It's a group of women from all different backgrounds with common goals and objectives. I still don't get tired of that."

Roller derby

To find out more about women's flat-track roller derby in the Bay Area or scheduled bouts, contact:
Tri-Valley Roller Girls -- www.trivalleyrollergirls.com, or Facebook page
Quad City Derby Bombshells -- 925-724-4360, or Facebook page
Silicon Valley Roller Girls -- www.svrollergirls.com. Home bouts scheduled June 22 and Aug. 17 at San Jose Skate, 397 Blossom Hill Road, San Jose. Check website for details and ticket information.
Bay Area Derby (BAD) Girls -- For bout schedule and information check www.bayareaderbygirls.com.