“Our group is composed of the most random women you will ever meet, and as it turns out, love,” said Ashley Laws, or Ashinator, one of the four original Appalachian Rollergirls, a competitive 18-and-up women’s roller derby team located in the High Country. The group hosted a fundraiser this past Valentine’s Day, a speed-dating event for participants of all genders and orientations.
Around 45 singles showed up to Cafe Portofino’s for the event, raising $450 for the group’s hopes of paying for a new practice space. Currently they practice at Skateworld in Vilas.
“Derby is a pay-to-play sport,” team member Jennele Vaquera said. “We all have membership fees and pay for all of our own travel.”
Typically in roller derby, skaters choose a stage name to use in competitions. Often the name will be a cultural reference or a pun based off the skater’s real name. Vaquera skates under the name Coco Janel, and joined a few weeks after ARG started in 2010. Although she had no derby experience, she quickly learned it was the sport for her.
Legally, ARG are a nonprofit 501(c)3, which means that any profits they make – outside of paying for the space where they compete – goes to a local charity.
“As far as our profits go, they go to running the team,” skater Sarah Holt said. “Like any business there are operating costs from paying rent for our practice facility, hosting bouts at [Holmes Convocation Center] to printing costs for posters and flyers.”
Holt skates as Holt .45 and also serves as art director for the group, after serving as vice president for the past two years.
“I got involved with ARG two weeks after they started at Skateworld and immediately fell in love with the sport, the people and pretty much everything derby stands for,” Holt said. “I made some of the best, lifelong friendships becoming a derby girl.”
Holt said she feels that 75 percent of roller derby is an athletic endeavor and 25 percent of it is a social community.
“Derby is a sport,” Vaquera said. “It takes a lot of commitment, dedication and hard work.”
ARG also make routine appearances throughout the year at other fundraisers, including Celebrity Serve, adopt a pet day through Watauga County Humane Society, birthday parties at Skateworld for kids, The Annual High Country Beer Fest and fundraisers for community members who have fallen on hard times.
“From the friends you make on your own team to the friends you make on other teams, the fundraiser, the events, the bouts — you’re constantly meeting new people and interacting,” Holt said.
As for Valentine’s Day, Holt said that some true love connections may have been made at the event and the following social.
She believes in what roller derby stands for: empowering women and giving back to the community.
“I’m part of roller derby simply because I fell in love with it on day one,” Holt said. “It’s been a huge support system of mine for five years now.”
STORY: Lovey Cooper, Senior A&E Reporter