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Tornado Alley sweeps up two Tinker women

Long-distance runner Jamie Weber, left, was looking to change up her workout routine when she attended her first roller derby bout. Though she’s just playing in her first year, the engineer with the 72nd Air Base Wing Civil Engineering Directorate, has a reputation as one of the best jammers on her team. (Courtesy photo)

Long-distance runner Jamie Weber, left, was looking to change up her workout routine when she attended her first roller derby bout. Though she’s just playing in her first year, the engineer with the 72nd Air Base Wing Civil Engineering Directorate, has a reputation as one of the best jammers on her team. (Courtesy photo)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- "Rumblin' Ruby" and "Rogue 2Hell" will not show mercy. Donning protective gear, mouth guards, helmets, roller skates and their "derby attitudes," they mean business. After all, they are Tornado Alley Roller Girls with a 7-1 record.

Sally Phelps and Jamie Weber, respectively, are two of 51 women who participate in the Oklahoma City Roller Derby league. And, when they're not burning plastic on their home flat track at the Historic Farmers' Market in downtown Oklahoma City, they can be seen around Tinker. Phelps is an aircraft mechanic and Weber, an engineer.

"A lot of people have misunderstandings about the women who do derby. They think they are the mean, tough, dirty girls who cuss and spit and get drunk all the time," said Phelps, who works on KC-135 Stratotankers in the 76th Aircraft Maintenance Group. "Yeah, we do that once in a while, but we're not different than any other chicks. We're all women. Some of us have families, husbands, boyfriends or girlfriends. We're normal people."

Phelps, a 31-year-old single mother of two boys, got involved in roller derby two years ago. She said she met "Faerie Mean," another Tornado Alley roller girl, on a social-networking website. "Faerie Mean" had been looking for recruits and spotted Phelps. After some encouragement, Phelps came to a practice and has been hooked ever since.

"The day after practice, my body was so sore. I had to do it again," she said. Phelps has played all three positions -- blocker, pivot and jammer -- but admits she plays blocker and pivot more often than jammer.

Once Phelps became a part of the team, she needed an alter-ego and "Rumblin' Ruby" was born.

"I just picked it. Ruby is my birthstone, and Rumblin' is because I make a lot of noise," she said. "I'm normally hollering at myself or something on the floor. But, with my mouth guard, they only hear rumblings."

Wear-and-tear is common in the game. Since Phelps has been playing, she said she has torn two ligaments in her knee.

"Ruby has had two bad injuries, but it just shows her dedication to skating," said Sara Sisco, Oklahoma City Roller Derby head coach. "She's still active."

While Phelps insists the women who partake in derby are typical women of various shapes, sizes and ages, she said a key strategy is intimidation and many partake in it.

"It's just another side we get to expose. Derby is just another outlet. It's almost therapeutic," she said. "We have some of the sweetest girls on the team, who do anything for you, but on the floor during a bout, you wouldn't want to get hit by them."

Playing offense and defense at the same time, derby demands coordination, communication and an inner-confidence, Weber said.

"You're going to get knocked down a whole lot and you just have to get right back up," she said. "Derby is strong women playing a fun and challenging sport. You get out of derby what you put in. There's a lot going on at once, so, I guess it's just the passion you see."

If intimidation is a dynamic of the game, Weber's alter-ego, "Rogue 2Hell," is appropriate. But, unlike Phelps, Weber insists there's no story behind the name. Instead, she had brainstormed several names -- including "Faux Tonic" and "Ferrell Wheels" -- and asked her teammates to select their favorite. Ultimately, "Rogue 2Hell" won out.

Since adopting her alter-ego, Weber hasn't looked back. Instead, she's fed off the adrenaline of the sport and the spectators.

"Everyone needs their own cheerleaders," she said. "When the crowd erupts, it keeps me going. It should be a vending machine choice."

Weber, an engineer with the 72nd Air Base Wing Civil Engineering Directorate, joined the league after a friend mentioned derby to her. The 25-year-old had been doing long-distance running and was looking for another workout -- something challenging that would change up the pace. She attended a bout and said she loved it. That was nine months ago.

"It's her first season," Sisco said. "When Rogue first started, she was really klutzy, but she's now one of our best jammers."

Phelps, Weber and the rest of the team practice four to six times a week for several hours in the evening at the Historic Farmers' Market building at 311 S. Klein Ave. They work on speed, agility, jumps, control and falling.

"Falls are the best part and the craziest things in the world," Phelps said. "I've slid into people, have taken them down with me or they've stopped me. But, we practice how to fall correctly and we'll work on range and ability until we're all up to par."

OKCRD typically plays in one home bout a month, but its teams -- Tornado Alley Roller Girls and the expo team -- will also compete in away bouts. The teams play against other leagues in the state, plus Texas, Kansas and Arkansas. During home bouts, OKCRD plays for a chosen charity and raises money by hosting a silent auction.

"We take this seriously," Sisco said. "It's hot outside and we all work all day, but we still want to be nationally ranked and win without fighting. We work as a team and we want to win because we work hard."