FORT IRWIN, Calif. — Fort Irwin’s Heavy ArmHER competitive women’s roller derby team held its fourth annual skate-a-thon fundraiser March 4. The event helps support team training programs and defray the cost of travelling to competitions.
Team members skated laps for nearly three hours at the basketball courts near Fort Irwin’s Splash Park. Many had secured pledges to receive donations for each lap they skated, but the team also had tables selling gear and collection jars available for spectators to sponsor a “hit”. Halfway through the event, the more experienced skaters performed a roller derby demonstration and explained the sport’s rules.
Proceeds from the skate-a-thon are especially important to the team because they must travel long distances from Fort Irwin to compete, according to incoming Team President Elizabeth Tomal-Keiser. Barstow, the closest town, is nearly 40 miles away. Despite the challenges, team members have built a close-knit group here in the desert.
“This team is my community. My husband is about to be deployed, so I’m in this situation where we live in the middle of nowhere, I don’t have family anywhere nearby, and this team is my support system,” said Tomal-Keiser. “They’re the ones that keep me going, and it’s also a super fun way to exercise, and I have somewhere to be at least two nights a week and when we’re having competitions.”
The team is open to all skill levels. Some skaters have been playing the sport for 10 years. Others, including Mary McMiller, had never tried it before coming to Fort Irwin.
“I’ve grown to love it. It’s a great way to meet people here and feel more at home here,” McMiller said. “It’s a way to let out some steam, let out some aggression in a healthy way, stay fit, stay active – really fun.”
Both McMiller and Tomal-Kaiser encourage any women who are interested to come out and try the sport. Training programs, supported by donations from events like the skate-a-thon, help bring new members up to speed.
“You don’t need to come with any experience, you just need to come with a good spirit, and you’ll definitely pick it up quicker than you think,” Tomal-Keiser said.
The team is scheduled to have a home bout April 22 against the East Valley Roller Derby team from Yucaipa. The event is at 12:30, and doors open at noon at the Splash Park Pavilion.