Roll On

This story appears in the Summer 2014 issue of Eidé Magazine. Read it here, or click to read it in the issue below. 

Story by Christina Montford } Photography by Jaime Hopper

Sell all your belongings. Move to Budapest. Leave Budapest and relocate to the South where you know next to no one. Start a “bitching knitting” group. Create the first roller derby league in Atlanta. That’s what you’d have to do to emulate Atlanta Rollergirls founder Angela Ward. It’s that simple. Maybe simple isn’t the word for it, but she makes it look that way.

Not more than 5 feet 3 inches with short, curly hair, Ward is a closer clone of your mom’s quirky best friend than a raging, body-checking, one-woman scoring machine. She’s upbeat with soft, kind eyes, which might be why she was so lethal to her competitors in her heydey.

After moving from Budapest to Atlanta 10 years ago, Ward founded the Atlanta Rollergirls out of a pure interest in the sport. She wanted to play, and no one in the city was offering her the chance. So without ever having played, or even knowing the rules, Ward formed the Rollergirls. Today, the Atlanta Rollergirls has seven teams, some of which compete internationally.

We recently sat down with Angela Ward to find out more about her life, passion and how she is singlehandedly breaking down the term “bitch on wheels.”

Eidé Magazine:What were you doing before you started the Atlanta Rollergirls? Angela Ward: The first thing that I started in Atlanta was the “Stitch ’n Bitch” knitting group, so that was my first foray into starting things. But I just have had a regular job the whole time. I had a contract position that was recently cut off. I was a business analyst and before that I did web development at Cartoon Network, and when I started the Rollergirls I was a web developer at The Weather Channel.

EM: So how do you go from web developing, to bitching ’n stitching, to roller derby? AW: It was just a hobby. I wanted to learn how to knit and once I learned I found out about these other groups knitting around the country and I thought that would be a good way to meet people. It worked, and after doing that for a couple years I had a friend who was getting into the roller derby scene in Austin where there was kind of a resurgence of roller derby. She was into it and I was reading her blog and I thought “that looks like a lot of fun” and I looked up roller derby in Atlanta and there was none. For some crazy reason I was like “I’ll start one.”

EM: You didn’t have any experience?AW: None. I don’t think I’d had a pair of roller skates on for 20 years.

EM:So you started the league before you learned how to play? AW: Yeah we kind of learned as we went. We got a lot of information from other groups that were starting as well, and that’s been the fun thing about roller derby, that we’ve sort of been figuring it out as we’ve gone along — not just us but leagues all over the country, and now the world. There were just a few leagues at the time and those helped us get started, and then those leagues got together and decided to form an association to help define rules and set standards so that we could play each other.

EM:How old is the league? AW: This is our 10th year. I can’t believe it’s been this long.

EM:How many teams do you play against? AW: We have seven different teams here, four of which are home teams that play against one another, and we have three travel teams separated by skill. There are thousands of leagues all over the world. We have played leagues from Los Angeles, New York, London and Montreal.

EM:What do you think caused this resurgence of people wanting to be a part of roller derby? AW: In the beginning it had more of a crazy, fun draw and people were into the campy aspect of roller derby in the ’70s and early ’80s. There was a lot of wrestling type moves in the beginning and I think that was also kind of a draw. But as we came together as a group (we, meaning the derby association), there’s been more of a push for the athleticism than the spectacle, but there’s still some of the spectacle. We still have funny names and things like that, but it’s definitely grown into more of a sport and we instill that in our Atlanta players.

EM:Were you nervous to start a league? AW: I think I must have had some nervousness but I don’t think it was a lot. By that point ... I realized if you are enthusiastic about something and you have passion and you are persistent, you can make anything happen. So for me it was more about deciding what I was going to do and following through. Sometimes it was just me. One skater skating around, and I still practiced. And then we started getting this regular group who came every Sunday who really wanted to see this thing through.

EM:What did your family and friends think? AW: My mom was really worried about my teeth. That was her big concern. But my teeth have been great. My husband was a little more hesitant ’cause I like to try a lot of different things ... But after I told him I really needed his support he was fine and very supportive.

EM: How did the public receive you? AW: Our first bout was incredible. It was so new and different and a lot of people who had heard of roller derby were interested in the beginning. It slowed down just a hair, but then picked back up and it’s been pretty nonstop ever since. We get a lot of new skaters. Currently we have a sticker that says “I’m new to roller derby” so if it’s your first time at a game we will give you a sticker and there are still a lot of people wearing those stickers to this day.

EM:How did you come up with your alter ego Tanya Hyde? AW: Actually a friend of mine came up with it, a guy I used to work with. I have always had a large bottom, so tanning your hide to me was perfect. It’s funny because I’ll answer to Tanya more than I will Angela. Only my parents and my husband call me Angela.

EM: What do you think you’ve gained from this whole experience? AW: I have gained immeasurable confidence. I’ve gained a family that is just an entire world of people from all over the planet. I know I can always count on them and the sisters that I’ve made here at the Atlanta Rollergirls.

EM:What’s next? AW: My biggest project right now is the Atlanta Derby Brats which is an organization for girls ages 7 to 17. We aim to teach the confidence that we’ve all gained from the sport and give it to those girls. I think roller derby is awesome and it’s something that everyone should try even if it’s not at a competitive level. You meet a lot of amazing people that you would never otherwise be exposed to.