By Derek Belt
SEATTLE — What comes to mind when you think of the Rat City Rollergirls? If it’s tattooed women and fast, physical action, you’re not alone. But that’s not the whole story.
Meet Valerie Morris, ’08. She’s tall, pretty and goes by the skater name Valtron 3000. She’s also a scientist, having earned her Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology from the University of Washington.
As a postdoctoral fellow at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, she concentrates on leukemia research, but says, “When I go out there and skate, I get to be someone totally different.”
As Valtron 3000, Morris is a five-time all-star for the Throttle Rockets, a “constellation of kickass” according to the team’s website and one of four squads within the six-year-old Rat City Rollergirls. She’s considered one of the best jammers in the league, and it’s her responsibility to score points by passing other players—by any means necessary.
“I started doing derby my first year in graduate school,” says Morris. “Sometimes your experiments aren’t working, but I can put on my pads, knock people down, get that aggression out and just not think about it for two hours while I’m skating.”
More than 15 UW alumni are on the Rat City roster, and two of the league’s three founding members are Huskies. Katie Merrell, ’98, and Lilly Warner, ’02, also known as Dixie Dragstrip and Hurricane Lilly, respectively, spawned the idea for roller derby in the Emerald City at a 2004 dinner party. The third founding member is Rahel Cook (Rae’s Hell), owner of Zippy’s Giant Burgers in West Seattle.
The trio originally rented out the Southgate Skating Rink in White Center and prayed that a few hundred folks would show up and watch. Six years later, Rat City Rollergirls is soaring in popularity and drawing thousands of fans to KeyArena for each bout.
“This is the best year ever,” says Merrell, who recently retired from the playing circuit. She’s proud to call the Rat City Rollergirls a volunteer business, meaning every player on every team helps with set-up, marketing, merchandise sales and more. And these aren’t the sheet metal workers you expect them to be, says Rani Khan, ’01, a graduate of the UW Foster School of Business.
“It’s the Type A overachievers who are like, ‘Bring it!'” says Khan, who goes by the skater name X-Khan. “It’s people who are in charge; people with ingenuity and moxie and brains who need a little aggressive outlet.”
“You think it’s gritty and you think it’s punk rock,” adds Morris, “and there’s definitely that part of it. But there’s all of these professional women. It’s a great way to build confidence.”
This is not a group lacking in confidence. Not with names like Meg Myday, Moe YaDown and Rita Her-Rights. Not with UW degrees ranging from biochemistry to English literature. “Some of us have 40-hour work weeks, some of us are moms, some of us are both,” says Tammy Taecker, ’00, who by day is a project manager for the UW’s Department of Housing & Food Services. By night, however, she’s captain of the Throttle Rockets and known to fans around the region as Sirius Mischief.
“Every sport I’ve played, every job I’ve had and every hobby I’ve done, I’ve had to compromise somewhere in beauty, brains or brawn,” says Khan, an all-star from the Sockit Wenches. “I don’t want to have to compromise. Dressing up all cute doesn’t have to be a part of it, but why not? We’re girls. We like that kind of stuff.”
You knew your dentist was a UW graduate, but did you ever think she could be a member of Derby Liberation Front, champions of the 2009 Rat City Rollergirls season? Probably not, and that’s the best part. These are successful, professional women who just happen to kick a little butt on the side.
“From the start, we’ve not only been amateur athletes, we’ve been rock stars,” says Morris. “That’s what keeps people going. You’re a professional woman but you get to don your cute outfits and knock girls down and have 4,000 people cheer for you. It’s kind of a rush.”