Hard Hittin’

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Denver’s Rocky Mountain Rollergirls don’t pull punches on or off the track. Photographer Dave Wood captures the league’s intense competitive spirit.

By Amy Speer
Photography by Dave Wood

Using rich blacks and stark whites, photographer Dave Wood captures the blur of bodies, the cry of victory, the look of determination. With the click of his camera and the aid of some strategically placed studio lights, Wood crouches daringly close to the action. Ten charging women surge past him, hungrily staring down victory.RollerDerby2

Welcome to Denver, a city that has produced two of the top 10 flat-track roller-derby leagues in the world — the Rocky Mountain Rollergirls and the Denver Roller Dolls.

This will be Wood’s fourth year photographing roller derby. What started out as a hobby turned into an art — much like the sport he captures with his camera. His black-and-white photos are empowering — a stunning mix of action, emotion and booty shorts.

Wood showcased his work, The Art of Roller Derby Photography, in a spring exhibit featuring Denver photography at Herman’s Hideaway, a trendy concert venue on south Broadway. The photo exhibit flaunted a fleet of powerful women — a new breed of Denver athlete.

Heels to wheels

RollerDerby3Meagan Griesel beams a friendly smile in her company portrait. She’s the director of marketing at Fuller Sotherby’s International Realty and the perfect picture of professionalism, sporting pixie-like bangs, a 100-watt smile and a smart business suit.

But come evening, the 36-year-old is known to trade in her pumps for skates, her panty hose for knee-highs and her knee-length skirt for bottom-hugging shorts. Griesel has a little bit of an alter-ego when it comes to roller derby. She doesn’t change in a phone booth or anything like that — but goes by “Poison Divey,” the league’s “red-headed super villain.”

Don’t let roller derby stereotypes fool you, though. You won’t catch Griesel in a pink tutu.

Pink fluff is almost taboo among the Rocky Mountain Rollergirls, a league made up of uniform-wearing, practice-attending, die-hard athletes. In fact, the Denver league beat out 158 other leagues for a 2010 national title in the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.

“If you wear a tutu, you don’t look intimidating,” Griesel says. “Besides, tutus seem like they would get in the way.”

A lack of pink isn’t all that makes these women intimidating.

Meet the Undertaker’s Daughter

Meghan Dougherty, known on the track as the “Undertaker’s Daughter,” is a self-described 5’5″, curvy woman who likes to hit extremely hard. “It’s exhilarating knocking people down,” Dougherty says. “And I’m not easy to knock down, either.”

Roller derby is a contact sport in which both teams designate a scoring player — the jammer — who tries to score points by lapping opposing players. The teams assist their own jammer while hindering the opposing jammer. In short, it’s like a cat fight on wheels.RollerDerby4

“We skate fast. We hit hard. There’s something about watching a female sport that is so physical,” Dougherty says — one that gives the 46-year-old soccer mom a little edge when it comes to running her own public relations company.

“There are advantages to letting clients know I have a competitive nature,” Dougherty says. “Roller derby requires aggressiveness and sportsmanship — and a certain amount of risk taking. There are definitely elements of competition that have their place in business.”

When it comes to this group of women, though, the track unleashes a whole new level of competitiveness.

“With roller derby, there’s a lot of contact. It’s a lot like football, or hockey, and that’s why I like photographing it,” Wood says. “With roller derby, though, I can get right up there with my camera and light the track just like I would a portrait. In the end, I get something that’s very artistic.”

Study the photos long enough, and you’ll see it, too. There’s something beautiful in their hunger for victory. But don’t tell that to any of these Rollergirls. You might as well slap a pink tutu on yourself and ask one of them to knock you down.

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