Luling’s Jessica Henry joins forces with one of New Orleans’ most extreme sports – the roller derby
Adorned with bright-red tank tops, knee pads and their signature whiffleball bats, the Big Easy Rollergirls lined the streets of the French Quarter for the second annual New Orleans Running of the Bulls on July 12.Rollergirl newcomer and Luling resident Jessica Henry was there to take part in all the bull-raging fun as the group chased runners on the half-mile route through historical New Orleans.
“At first I was a little skeptical about the idea of waking up at the crack of dawn just to skate down the street and hit people with plastic bats,” said Henry. “But we had so much fun and whole experience was absolutely amazing.”
The event’s organizer, Mickey Hanning, ran in the real Running of the Bulls in 2002 at the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona, Spain and decided to bring the event to New Orleans.
However, since it’s illegal to let livestock run loose in the French Quarter, Hanning decided to stage the Big Easy Rollergirls as the predators.
“The organizers are looking to make this event the newest New Orleans tradition,” said Henry. “And it’s something that everyone should experience at least once. I still get goose bumps every time I talk about it.”
The roller-derby squad was originally founded in May of 2005, but after the group lost 80 percent of their league to Hurricane Katrina, it’s taken a while to build back membership.
“About six of us started the league up again from scratch in January 2006,” said rollergirl spokesperson Sally Asher. “We debuted in September 2006 with about 30 members and now we have nearly 75 members including both skaters and referees.”
Henry says that she began training with the Big Easy Rollergirls in February and will be eligible for the organization’s August draft.
The New Orleans rollergirl league is divided into four teams: The Crescent Wenches, The Marigny Antionettes, The Confederacy of Punches and The StoryVillians. So, what team will Henry skate with?
“I’m not on a team just yet,” said Henry, “But at this point, I’m so anxious to get out there and skate that I’ll be ecstatic regardless of which team I get drafted into.
“I found out about the roller derby league through a friend and once I heard about the the fast-paced, in-your-face, full-contact sport that takes place on skates, I was sold.”
And besides the mini-celebrity status and awesome workout, Henry says that the most fun aspect of being a rollergirl is hanging out and bonding with all the “awesome” females that make up the organization.
“I can already feel myself growing and becoming a stronger person because of it,” she said. “For a lot of girls, including me, it’s all about stepping out of your comfort zone and morphing into your alter ego. I don’t think that there’s anything about derby that isn’t fun.”
In addition to participating in practices, community events and skill assessments, one requirement to be a rollergirl is picking out a “skate name.”
“Everyone has to have a skate name,” said Henry. “Originally I was going to use Firecracker because of my spunky personality, but it was already taken. So, one of my friends suggested TripWyre because it pretty much has the same effect, just with a bigger boom. And lucky for me, it was available.”
When Henry isn’t skating around the track as TripWyre, she’s working as a legal secretary for a downtown New Orleans class-action law firm.
“We are a diverse group,” said Asher. “We have skaters from all across the United States as well as Canada, South Africa and the Netherlands. Our women range in age from 22 to 46 and we are lawyers, architects, teachers, actresses, artists, writers and even pharmacists.”
Asher points out that the organization is not only a fabulous way to meet new friends and get in great shape, but many have the opportunity to donate valuable services to their community.
“Every skater must fulfill a certain amount of community service and everyone must serve on a committee,” she said.
The Big Easy Rollergirls will start their new season on Sept. 20 at the Human Performance Center at the University of New Orleans.
ROLLER DERBY 411
Roller Derby is a full-contact, competitive sport conducted on four-wheeled skates.
It is played on an oval, flat track with an inside circumference of 148.5′ and an outside circumference of 236.5′
The teams skate in a counter-clockwise direction.
Each team consists of a maximum of 14 players. Each game is called a bout.
Bouts consist of two to three 20-minute long periods that are subdivided into 2-minute jams. Jams consist of five players from each team.