To be a Roller Dame, you had to expect to suffer skinned knees, black eyes, swollen lips and the possibility of broken bones. But you were never expected to be a good skater.
With no prior experience skating, Andrea Buckley decided to join the Sioux City Roller Dames with the intention to meet people her age and make some friends. She was new to the area, and apart from her husband she didn’t know anybody. She expected to attend a few roller derby practices, skate a little bit, meet some people and that would be the end of it. That was the plan at least.
“Of course, I ended up sticking around for seven years,” said Buckley, who was known as “The Annihilatrix” on the Sioux City roller derby team.
She did meet new people. She did make new friends. Despite her initial ambitions, Buckley decided to stay with the Roller Dames. She discovered it was more than just skating and beating the crap out of the opposing team. To be a Roller Dame -- a true Roller Dame -- she had to give back to the community.
“That was in our DNA from the get-go,” said Buckley. “We always made it really clear for new people that this is part of what we do. We’re going to partner with charities, we’re going to go do the build for Habitat for Humanity, we’re going to go to Girls Inc. -- it was always very clear what we were as an organization.”
Having retired in 2015, Buckley looked forward to opportunities in the future where she might still volunteer or help out with the Roller Dames. As of this month, that possibility can no longer happen. After eight years, the Sioux City Roller Dames have retired their jerseys. It’s done.
Libby Claeys was bored. She enjoyed Sioux City’s nightlife and party scene, but she hadn’t found her niche. She wanted something to drive her. Claeys remembered her time spent in Minneapolis watching roller derby games. “I was born to do this,” said Claeys. “Whatever this is, I need it in my life.”
By February 2008, Claeys and her father had already nailed down a handful of sponsors and kicked off Sioux City’s very own roller derby team. Claeys called her best friend Melissa Dittberner to join the team and also help with organizing. Dittberner, who would later be known by her derby name “Mo Payne,” said the early years were exciting, especially since no one knew exactly what to do.
“None of us knew what we were doing,” said Dittberner with a laugh. “It was kind of like beating our own path.”
Roller derby continued to evolve the more the Roller Dames played. The early years of Dames “wearing fishnets and beating each other up waiting for the net fight” were gone. It became an established sport with rules and regulations that begged to be taken seriously and become legitimized.
“It was becoming more demanding of us to be athletic and to be well-trained,” said Dittberner.
The Roller Dames developed a core group of dedicated players. But as the years went on, the team didn’t have that “chronic flow of new beating blood.” Claeys said remaining members committed time to teaching people how to skate and even held recruiting events to find new Dames.
“But nobody was really sticking around,” said Claeys, known by the nickname “PBR” on the Roller Dames. “Over time, those that were so dedicated became burnt out and started going in different directions.”
Roller Dames had decided to hang up their skates while others decided to pursue other ventures. A few players, like Dittberner, even joined the Sioux City Kornstalkers, the men's team. But she knows she’ll forever be a Roller Dame.
“I’m never not going to be a Roller Dame,” she said. “It’s a huge part of my identity. That’s how people know me.”
THE TRUE MEANING
As with any team sport, members of the Roller Dames made lasting friendships. Teammates had each others' backs in and out of games. Any pent-up aggression or previous woes never stepped foot into the roller rink.
"Had a bad day at work? Alright. Lace up. Take your aggression out on the track and make yourself a better player," said Claeys. "That person that told you you couldn't? Laugh at them and say, 'I can.'"
It didn't matter how many times you fell. It mattered how many times you picked yourself up.
Dittberner said, "No matter how angry I might be at someone, once I got on the track almost 98 percent of the time everything was just about playing roller derby and fighting to be better, to get to the next game, to beat the next opponent, to get higher in ranking, to get better and doing things around the city that we knew were good."
This powerful group of women left lasting impacts on the community, raising money at each home game the Roller Dames played. The funds were donated to the Food Bank of Siouxland, Special Olympics, Sk8 the State for MS, Siouxland Autism Support Group, Noah's Hope, Mercy Child Advocacy Center, Iowa Legal Aid, Habitat for Humanity, Girls Inc., Friendship House, Crittenton Center, Counsel on Sexual Abuse and Domestic Violence and the Sioux City Conservatory of Music.
"We always knew the community was the reason for our success," said Claeys. "It was a bigger picture than just a roster."
The Roller Dames strove to better themselves as athletes and as members of a community. They served as role models and rebels. They rejected the "norm." They believed in giving back.
With their striking war paint and aggressive behavior on the rink, the Roller Dames fought hard to make themselves known in Sioux City. They paid for it with blood, sweat and tears.
You'd be hard pressed to forget a Sioux City Roller Dame.