By Keysha Drexel
When she laces up her skates on March 22 for the Tragic City Rollers’ first bout of the 2014 season, Angela Seale said she’s knows she’ll be doing more than helping her roller derby teammates prevail over the Rollergirls of Rome, Ga.
This season, Birmingham’s derby darlings are sponsoring A. Skate Foundation, an organization that brings the fun and freedom of being on wheels to children with autism.
“We folks on wheels,” Seale, who is also known as Panama Jack You Up, said, “we’ve got to stick together.”
Each year since it was founded in 2009, the Tragic City Rollers derby team has selected a charity to support, Seale said, and this year decided to help the A. Skate Foundation. Funds collected by the Tragic City Rollers this season will go directly towards A. Skate’s efforts to build a skate park in Homewood.
“This one really makes sense because what A. Skate does is give kids with autism a chance to just be kids,” she said. “They get skateboard lessons, and it doesn’t matter if they’re sitting on the skateboard, rolling on it on their stomachs, whatever. The point is that they are having fun.”
The skateboarding program through the A. Skate Foundation is provided at no cost to participants, along with skateboard gear and safety equipment.
“The cool thing is that it is not just about the kids learning skateboarding,” Seale said. “They are also getting the occupational therapy they need through the A.Skate program.”
This year, the Tragic City Rollers will have a photo booth set up at all the team’s home bouts at Zamora Shrine Temple, the proceeds of which will also be donated to the A. Skate Foundation, said Rachel “Road Rach” Fallin, the team’s publicity director.
The team will volunteer at A. Skate Foundation events throughout the year and will help the organization build skateboard ramps for its program, Fallin said.
The team will have drop-off sites at its home bouts where Tragic City Rollers fans can donate water and nonperishable snacks for the children enrolled in the A. Skate Foundation programs.
But don’t let that willingness to help those in need fool you into thinking that the ladies of the Tragic City Rollers aren’t a force to be reckoned with once they hit the skate track.
“This is not about twirling around the rink and looking beautiful,” Seale said. “You learn to take hits–and give them–and you learn to be bruised and sore and to get out there and do it again the next night. It can be tough, but it is all worth it.”
The team practices at least twice a week at a skating rink in Fultondale during the season, Seale said.
“We will try to squeeze in a third practice during the week, if we can,” she said. “We all take the training very seriously.”
And to make it in the sometimes brutal sport of roller derby, the women of the Tragic City Rollers have to take that training seriously, Seale said.
Roller derby got its start in the banked-track skating marathons in the 1930s and has evolved into an international sport with about 400 all-women derby leagues worldwide.
Derby teams compete in bouts that are divided into periods called hams. Points are scored when the “jammer” laps members of the other team, which is easier said than done. Opposing team members will bump, throw elbows and hit the “jammer” to keep her from completing the lap maneuver.
“It’s all about speed. It’s about taking hits and making hits. It’s a lot more athletic than people think,” she said.
It was the athletic component of the sport that first attracted Seale to the roller derby, she said.
In 2006, Seale was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and immediately knew she had to take charge of her health and find a fun way to stay active.
“My father had MS and I saw what it did to him, because he really just sat in a chair and watched movies for the rest of his life,” she said. “I knew I was going to fight, that I was going to do something to get up off the couch.”
Shortly after her diagnosis, Seale began taking adult ballet and tap dance classes.
“I mean, it was good, because it was a way to keep moving, but it wasn’t exactly my cup of tea,” she said.
In 2007, Seale and her husband, Wes, took a trip to Nashville, and she saw fliers all around town promoting Nashville’s roller derby team.
“As soon as I saw that flier in Nashville, I knew I had found the perfect way to stay active and to challenge myself,” she said. “I came home and did some research and found out about the Tragic City Rollers and went to check them out the next weekend.”
While Seale said she was immediately confident that she would enjoy being a roller derby queen, she wasn’t as sure about her skating skills.
“The last time I skated before I joined the Tragic City Rollers was elementary school,” she said. “It’s not like riding a bike where you pick it back up pretty quickly, but that’s what practice is for.”
But after a few practices, Seale had the hang of being back on skates and started to love her newfound hobby.
“What’s cool is that no one on the team really grew up doing this. I played volleyball, but like most of the other girls, I had never done roller derby. We are all learning together, and we’re there to help each other.”
And that willingness to help each other applies even after the women take off their skates and derby gear, Seale said.
“These girls, they are my core group. We support each other outside of the derby, too. Whether it’s meeting for tacos and beer on Tuesdays or helping a teammate move, we know that all we have to do is call and we will have all the help and support we need,” she said.
Besides being good for her physically and emotionally, Seale said being a member of the Tragic City Rollers is just plain fun.
“What’s not to love about it? You’re competing on a team with your friends wearing a crazy costume under a crazy name,” she said.
Those crazy names are something the ladies of the roller derby give a lot of thought to, Seale said.
“You want it to be something that is personal to you in some way, and of course, it has to sound mean,” she said. “That’s why I’m Panama Jack You Up–because I love anything to do with the beach or Jimmy Buffet.”
Seale also gives a nod to her Parrothead status with her jersey number–5 o’clock.
Panama Jack You Up shares the Tragic City Rollers roster with Assault E. Señorita, Claw & Order, Roach Rach, Vin Lethal, London Mauling and others–women who often sport neon-dyed hair, heavy makeup and punk-inspired outfits on the skating track.
“It’s about expressing your derby persona, and a lot of girls really have fun with that part,” Seale said. “We’re tough girls, but we still want to look good while we’re giving our opponents a beat-down.”
And while they are brawling babes on the derby track, Seale said many people might be surprised to learn how “normal” members of the Tragic City Rollers really are once they drop their derby personas.
“We have teachers, police officers, librarians, nurses, people from all walks of life on the team,” she said. “We are all just regular girls who want to have some fun, kick some butt and help other people.”
The Tragic City Rollers will face off against the Rollergirls of Rome, Ga., at 7 p.m. at the Zamora Shrine Temple, 3521 Ratliff Road in Birmingham. Doors open at 6 p.m. Kids 8 and younger get in free. Tickets are $10 online or $15 at the door. Season tickets are also available.
For more information, visit www.tragiccityrollers.com.