When Daniella Brittingham arrived at a Tampa hotel recently to prepare for a roller derby game, she tried to call a couple of her teammates. There was no answer on their cellphones, and she then attempted to ring their rooms – except there was one problem: Brittingham didn’t know any of their names.
All she knew was their “derby names.’’ The busty Brittingham, for example, is known as “JuggzRnaut” – a name she picked.
“I had to go on Facebook to find my teammates’ real names,” said Brittingham, who competes for the Miami Vice City Rollers, which plays in the Suniland Roller Hockey Rink.
Roller derby, it seems, gets in the blood of these amateur athletes, and players tend to become the personae they create. Their birth names don’t matter on the track.
“If anyone calls me Daniella, I think it’s weird,” said Brittingham, 31. “I’m Juggz.”
Brittingham said a derby name is a rite of passage and is not awarded until a player goes through a rigorous training program. Described as football on wheels, roller derby has found a local home at Suniland Roller Hockey Rink, 9300 SW 152 St.
All women ages 18 and up are invited to become part of the program. There is also a juniors division for girls ages 8 to 17. Roller derby has been around for decades, but the sport — in its current incarnation — is not quite how it has been depicted in movies such as Whip It, starring Drew Barrymore.
While there is plenty of contact in roller derby, flying elbows and punches are not allowed.
One of the best things about the sport, Brittingham said, is that it welcomes virtually any body type. Brittingham, a self-described “big girl” at 5-4 and 240 pounds, has immense value to her team as a blocker.
“I’m the tough one,” she said. “I’m one you don’t want to come across on the track.”
On the other end of the size spectrum for Vice City is Kristy Perez, 27, whose derby name is “Chiquita.”
Perez, who wears No. 49 because she is 4-foot, 9-inches, weighs exactly half as much as Brittingham – but she has value, too. She is sometimes called “Sneaky Chiqui” for her ability to slip past opponents – even though teams often target her for hits.
“They always want to knock out the tiny one,” she said, “but I’m so small that I can get through the cracks.”
Perez said she doesn’t mind getting hit, but that all changed recently when she found out she was pregnant. She will miss the season but still attends and skates in practice without contact.
Teammate Crystal Allen, 34, said Perez’s child will be Vice City’s third roller baby – children born to players since the inception of the team in 2011.
Allen, whose derby name is “Nauti Seacups,” said the newest addition will be welcomed to the team because Vice City is all about family.
Brittingham agreed, saying she immediately felt at home when she joined Vice City.
“This is the first community of girlfriends I’ve had in which there is no gossiping or pettiness,” she said. “I can say whatever I want, and no one judges me.”
Friendships aside, roller derby is serious business for those who compete. There are more than 1,200 leagues worldwide, and roller derby is up for consideration to be an Olympic sport in 2020.
The rule book is thick, but, in essence, there are five players on the track at once – four blockers and one jammer. Scoring occurs when a jammer passes opposing team members.
Teams attempt to assist their jammer. They also try to block the opposing jammer, meaning they are simultaneously playing offense and defense.
Brittingham, a native of Brazil who did not know how to skate when she took up the sport a couple of years ago, said she is proud of the determination she has developed in learning roller derby.
A mother of a 4-year-old daughter, Brittingham said roller derby has given her confidence she had never felt previously.
“If I’m walking down the street, I don’t have anything to be afraid of,” she said. “I know I can knock people down if I have to.”
Of course, all those roller-derby collisions come at a price.
Brittingham said she sometimes looks like a “a human Dalmatian” because of all the bruises. Not that she is complaining.
“Roller derby is the best sport in the world,” she said. “It’s fast and intense with a lot of action. It’s fun to watch and amazing to play.”