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Spin Me Right 'Round Baby

When Kim Kysar decides she wants to do something, she doesn't let anything hold her back. When the 36-year-old decided she wanted to be in a rock band or become a photographer, she went ahead and did it.

When she was in Austin, she discovered women's flat-track roller derby after talking with a member of the Texas Rollergirls, the first, iconic league to blast past the roller derby nostalgia of the 1970s to reinvent a new, edgier, by-women-skaters, for-women-skaters sport.

After that conversation, Kysar knew Tucson needed a league. And in typical Kim Kysar fashion, she didn't let anything hold her back. She started the Tucson Roller Derby in December 2003. She was no longer just Kim Kysar. She was "Kim Sin," president and founder of the TRD.

Flash-forward to a couple of years later. Kim Sin is in Chicago for the Women's Flat-Track Derby Association conference, to help roller derby evolve into a more standardized sport.

"Someone mentioned holding a national tournament," Kysar said of the conference, "and I jumped up to say Tucson would be happy to host it, and we did. It was basically just we being brave enough to ask for it and knowing that we would have a venue to host it."

Friday, Feb. 24 through Sunday, Feb. 26, 20 Division 1 and Division 2 leagues from across the nation will converge at Bladeworld, 1065 W. Grant Road (right behind the theaters), for three days of women's flat-track roller derby at the first Dust Devil National Tournament.

While Kim no longer competes due to a game-sustained injury, she will be rooting for Tucson to win the championship. But other leagues may have something to say about that, especially Tucson's toughest competitors, the Texas Rollergirls and the AZRD, Arizona Roller Derby, of Phoenix.

First, some basics. A roller derby bout, according to WFTDA, is composed of three 20-minute periods, or "jams," between two teams. The three major positions of the sport include jammers, pivots and blockers. Pivots (striped helmets) and blockers make up the eight-person "pack" that the jammer wants to move ahead of to score points. The first whistle of the jam sets the pack off skating in a circular motion. Shortly thereafter, two sharp whistles signal each team's jammer (star helmet) to make her way through the pack. This is, of course, an oversimplification of the sport, but the essential idea to remember is that the quad-skaters play simultaneous offense and defense.

Tucson's league has four teams. The Saddletramps, the traveling TRD team, will battle it out with 19 other leagues on Friday in several 10-minute "mini-bouts" that will determine the 12 teams to advance to Saturday. After Saturday's bouts, four teams will compete on Sunday for the first-place trophy.

Saddletramp's pivot Zoe "Zoe Bowie" O'Reilly, 26, explained why Southwest rollergirls are contenders for first place, "I think living out in the desert, you get used to dealing with heat and adversity. We don't have all the distractions of going out to different nightclubs every night. It's too hot for pretense; you get out there, and you do what you need to."

The teams from around the country aren't conceding anything to the home team, though.

"We focus on hitting a lot," said blocker Mary "Head Trauma" Donnelly, 28, of the Minnesota Rollergirls. "We're bringing a lot of strong hitters who are really good at knocking jammers down before they get to the pack."

To the east, Colleen "Crackerjack" Bell, 30, founder and general manager of Wisconsin's Mad Rollin' Dolls, sent her "slugs and kisses" to the TRD before its last pre-Dust Devil scrimmage on Sunday, Feb. 19. One of Bell's tournament goals is "not to get hurt." But that's not all.

"We're not there to talk a lot of smack; we're there to show what we got," Bell said.

Eleanor "Wyatt eeka" Greyloch, 29, co-captain of the Saddletramps, explained why she thinks Tucson has an edge over Texas.

"I think the one thing that we have is endurance," said Greyloch, a bartender at the Surly Wench. "Everybody has to have heart; everybody has to love the sport, but I think one problem that Texas has had in the past was that they do two 15-minute periods, and we always do three 20-minute periods."

Meanwhile, Texas Rollergirl and blocker Manda Clair "Derringer .44" Jost, 33, took the long view of her team's ambitions: "We want, and we intend, to take the (first-place) trophy, but I personally would also be happy to witness some other team rise up as the best, most challenging opponents we've ever had. I think that we will win, but I'm not going to cry if we don't."

The Tucson Roller Derby Web site echoes Jost with the motto, "Rollergirls don't cry."

The only folks who may shed a tear are those who waited to get their tickets. As of press time, Kim Sin said the derby was sold out. There is one loophole of hope. "People who come in early enough at the door may be able to get tickets from the people in Wyoming who don't show up." For those who luck out at the door, tickets are $15 per day. For more information, visit www.tucsonrollerderby.com or www.wftda.org.

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