When Tate Nolan was 3 years old, she fell in love with rollerskating.
“I had a pair of rollerskates and usually I would skate around the neighborhood growing up,” Nolan said.
It wasn’t until much later in life that Nolan found a place where her love of skating could be paired with entertainment, strength and camaraderie with some pretty badass ladies.
Shedding the innocent skating from her youth — and her actual name — Tate joined the Minnesota RollerGirls and took on the persona of “Glam Slam,” a skater whose both tough to the core but with a flirty feminine side.
Glam Slam said the Minnesota RollerGirls began in 2004, after three sisters read an article about some RollerGirls from Texas. One plane trip to the big state later and the sisters fell in love. So much so, they decided to start their own group in Minnesota.
That’s when Glam Slam was asked by a friend to check it out. After watching one practice, Glam Slam said she was hooked.
Before we get too far into Glam Slam’s RollerGirl history, perhaps I should admit that the only thing I know about the art of being a RollerGirl is what I learned during the 60-second preview of Drew Barrymore’s movie, “Whip It.”
But when I found out we have our very own RollerGirl derby league here in Minnesota, I was eager to find out more. Luckily, I was introduced to Glam Slam — a member of the group that’s seen it all and then some.
Starting with the very basics, I wanted to know more about what a RollerGirl is, who they are, why they do it.
Glam Slam said beyond being an all-female sport — yes, a sport — it’s a great workout and a chance to be a part of a really great community of strong women. While the history of RollerGirls may have started out more focused on entertainment and pro-wrestling-like moves, it’s developed into a hard-core competition, one with strict rules, tough teams and yes, even a little bloodshed from time to time. The Minnesota RollerGirls are part of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, which also takes care of insurance coverage for the team. (You know, for all that bloodshed.)
The RollerGirls is made up of 80 skaters, divided into four different teams — each with their own color scheme and attitude. The skaters practice three times a week for two hours, which is required in order to remain eligible for bouting. (Bouting is RollerGirl lingo for their “gameplay” — four 24-minute periods where the teams compete to score the most points. For more information on bouts and the rules of the game, click here.)
“For me, it was better than having a gym membership, to be a part of something,” Glam Slam said.
It’s a big commitment, especially when the skaters are all unpaid and spend additional time volunteering at events and hosting fundraisers.
Most of the girls have “day jobs” — Glam Slam, er, Tate Nolan works as a creative director at OLSON Advertising, along with two other RollerGirls. She said the RollerGirls have a wide array of “normal jobs” from those in the service industry to students, not to mention a few doctors and lawyers.
“The RollerGirls is all volunteer, so none of us get paid — it’s purely for our own enjoyment,” Glam Slam said.
Most people know about Nolan’s “nighttime gig” so it’s not too unusual if she shows up to work with a few bruises and scratches. Because make no mistake, these girls are seriously tough and not afraid to get a little intense.
“I think everyone has to deal with injuries now and then,” Glam Slam said. “We do a lot of strength training and learning how to fall properly, but with any sport, there’s injuries, broken bones, bruises.”
The worst injury for her? Glam Slam said she suffered two concussions, maybe a month a part from each other. That took her out for a few weeks and required some physical therapy, she said.
That’s also the hardest part to watch for her family, Glam Slam said.
“They don’t like to see me get hurt and sometimes you do take a big fall, but it doesn’t really hurt me — as much as it looks like it did,” she said. “My mom, she has to cover her eyes.”
Glam Slam took a little time off and went into the realm of being a referee. But it wasn’t long before she realized how much she missed being in that RollerGirls uniform. This past Saturday was Glam Slam’s first game back after her little hiatus — and the official Return of the RollerGirls.
The group continues to grow — even beginning a junior league for girls between the ages of 4 and 18 (with a bit more relaxed atmosphere). More people are getting involved and the curiosity is spreading, as the fanbase grows wider and sell-out events become more commonplace.
“I think roller derby appeals to so many different kinds of people,” Glam Slam said. “Every group, every age range, older people to younger people, it’s a wide audience and an entertaining night. Whether you’re a sports fan or not, there’s something for everyone.”
Catch the full schedule for the Minnesota RollerGirls on its website — and learn more about the girls and the teams that make up this great group. The Minnesota RollerGirls practice and bout at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul.
Sara Boyd is a web producer and columnist at WCCO.COM.