TRAVERSE CITY — About two and a half years ago Brandy Gallagher discovered an athletic side of herself that she didn’t know she even had.
Gallagher began competing with Traverse City Roller Derby to fill a void in her life and since then it’s become a major part of who she is. She competes with the Toxic Cherries, one of two Traverse City Roller Derby teams — the Cherry Bombs are the other squad.
The Cherry Bombs will be in action at the Civic Center on Saturday, Aug. 17 for Fan Appreciation Night. The Cherry Bombs face Bath City for their bout. The Toxic Cherries have had trouble lining up an opponent for their final home bout and it is yet to be determined if they will be competing.
“I had skated at Skate World back in the day. Then I had rollerbladed, but I had never been part of a team or a sport in school at all, or even just intramural kind of stuff,” said Gallagher, from Traverse City. “So when I heard about derby I thought, ‘man, the only thing I’m ever good at is skating.’ I’ve always wanted to be part of a team so I thought I would check it out. I thought that was missing from my life, the chance to be part of a team. I didn’t know what that meant. I had been on committees, participated in choir and musicals, that kind of thing, but not in a sport. So I wanted to see what all of that was about. It’s amazing and I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s impacted my life in ways that I had no idea were even possible. I didn’t know that much was missing from my life.”
Roller derby is a high-energy, full-contact sport that features some of the principles of football, with blockers and jammers, the latter competing similarly to a running back. The only difference is it’s played on roller skates. Each jam, or play, can last up to two minutes long, creating physical and potentially high-scoring bouts. Those factors are what make the sport exciting to watch, according to C.C. Horvie, the PR Director for Traverse City Roller Derby.
“It’s fun to watch because it’s females in a contact sport,” she said. “I think it’s a real cool draw. You don’t see a lot of that unless you go to a female MMA fight or something of that nature. It’s fast-paced, it’s hard hitting. Once you get the rules down you’re good to go. You can keep up and watch. If you like football, if you like basketball, if you like hockey, if you like any of those major sports then you will like roller derby because it is just as fast and hard hitting as those contact sports.”
Gallagher said it took her about a year to get the hang of the sport, but since then her ability and passion for the game has skyrocketed.
“While I knew how to skate, skating for recreation is much, much different than skating for roller derby purposes. We spend most of our time (skating and rollerblading) trying not to fall. In derby it’s very much part of game play. Knowing how to take a hit is as important as being able to give one. To prevent injury and all of that, and also to be able to get yourself back up from a hit, get back in engagement, become a valuable member of the pack again. Or to get back up if you’re jamming and get back up and continue scoring points.”
The Civic Center provides the perfect venue for the sport, according to Gallagher, as opposed to other places they compete.
“Being at the Civic Center allows us to be in this really sports-like setting,” said Gallagher. “Many of the places that we bout downstate, or just around the state, are in old skating rinks. They’re wood floors, they’re kind of dark and low ceilings. It doesn’t necessarily create that high energy feeling. Here, when you play a bout, the lights are on. It feels like a big deal. It feels like a sporting event. It’s super exciting and you can definitely feel the crowd getting into it as much as the players are.”
The final home bout of the season, which begins at 6 p.m., features tickets for $8 in advance or $12 at the door. Children 10-and-under get in for free. The roller derby teams are partnering with Habitat for Humanity for the upcoming bout.
“We definitely want to get all of our friends and family who have been supporting us throughout the whole season and anybody who’s interested or who’s heard about it,” said Hovie. “This will be their last chance to see it this season until next summer. This is the time to check it out.”