It’s a bit after 8:30 in the morning on a Saturday and the Bozeman Skatepark is busy as a line of women in roller skates curve through the concrete playground, cheering each victory against gravity on four wheels.

There’s a woman in pink leggings at the head of the follow-the-leader pack. Her 10-year-old daughter is in a bright red helmet in the center of the line adding her own twists to the turns. It’s like a parade of neons, sparkles and even some animal prints.

The cohort represent Gallatin Roller Derby members along with those who were once on the competitive team and those who hope to join when they turn 18.

When together, the group of women offer their derby name without mentioning the name coworkers or friends outside the rink would recognize.

The team captain Kelsey Clark introduced herself as Whisky.

“You pick a name that makes you feel tough or makes you smile,” Whisky said. “Roller derby brings out your most confident side.”

The freestyle weekend gathering was a break from the strategy and muscle-building practices the team holds twice a week.

Gallatin Roller Derby kicks off its 2019 home season with Rollin’ Rodeo this Saturday. The double header is against the Jackson Hole Juggernauts and Kallispell’s Flathead Valley Roller Derby at the Gallatin County Fairground Haynes Pavilion. Doors open at 4:30 p.m. with the first bout against Jackson Hole at 5.

For those who need an introduction to the sport, Whisky summarized roller derby through one of her favorite quotes: it’s like playing chess while someone throws bricks at your head.

“When I first found it, I was like ‘amazing, strong, confident women having fun together? I can do this with all my free time,’” Whisky said.

Like most games, the goal is to score more points than the opposing team. There’s the jammer — the person set on lapping the other team on the track and gaining points with each opposing blocker she passes. The pack includes blockers with two goals: protect their jammer and stop the other team’s jammer.

Roller derby dates back to the Great Depression and shifted from an endurance sport to a pro-wrestling-style performance before it faded into a rarity.

Whisky said in the early 2000s, roller derby began its revival through grassroots programs across the country. While people still get hurt, she said roller derby has leaned away from dramatic big hits and toward teams crafting plays.

“People think roller derby and they think tattoos, fish nets, maybe being a little angry and violent — that part is not true,” Whisky said. “I don’t think they understand what a strategic game it is and the training that goes into it.”

The team hovers around 20 people, though when recruiting season arrives roughly 40 people tend to show up.

“We’re serious, and we’re very good,” said Nyla Capeheart, who goes by Whipper Snapper on the track. “A lot of people leave when they realize it’s not just a party.”

The team typically has eight tournaments a season. As interest in the team has grown, Gallatin Roller Derby has gotten more organized — filtering in new potential teammates each January with Fresh Meat Camp, an introduction for new skaters and referees.

Renae Mattimoe, 46, teaches at the camp. Patches of her yellow, green and teal hair stick out from under her helmet. Along the side of her helmet, silver sparkle letters spell out her derby name, “Dame Grenade.”

Grenade didn’t grow up playing on teams. But turns out, she loves to skate.

“Roller derby is welcoming to everyone and every body type,” she said. “This is a place for me.”

Grenade described herself as the mom on the team. She’s a mom off the track too, to seven kids. Her quest to join Gallatin Roller Derby had to wait a few years between more kids and school board obligations.

Grenade said while each roller derby origin story is different, the common tie is the fact roller derby celebrates strength and women soaking the characteristic that make them feel most epic.

As it nears 10 a.m. at the Bozeman Skatepark, the background noises change from the ladies’ cheers and laughter to skateboarders trying to sync their feet with boards.

As Grenade headed to her car, she talked over plans with others to skate around town in costume later in the week.

“I’m one of the costume queens,” she said with a laugh. “Plus, it’s just another way to spread the word we exist.”

Katheryn Houghton can be reached at or at 582-2628. Follow her on Twitter @K_Hought. 

Katheryn Houghton is the city government and health reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.