She is one of five league skaters who are St. Cloud State alumnae for the SCAR Dolls. Three are current students.
Gaetz taught five years at St. Cloud State as an adjunct political science professor. A former professional body builder, she joined the team after seeing a sign up at her gym. She was tired of bodybuilding and wanted something new.
“The best way to describe it is it’s exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time,” she said of roller derby.
Skating in a bout is a huge adrenaline rush and scary at the same time — you get knocked around a little, she added.
Her derby name, Mia Capricious, was inspired by her work life.
“As a human resources director, I deal with a lot of situations and sometimes people will say that’s just arbitrary and capricious,” she said. “I get that thrown at me.”
Gaetz is part of a revival of women’s roller derby that’s been happening across the world. Roller derby has existed as a sport for almost 100 years. The term was first used for roller skate races in the 1920s. The sport grew into the team sport it is today in the 1940s when it was played by both men and women. Its popularity dwindled in the 1960s and efforts to revive the sport in the 1980s and 1990s turned it into a spectacle sport with story lines and a figure-8 banked track.
The sport’s modern revival started in the early 2000s when a switch to a flat-track preference made the sport more accessible and spread worldwide.
Teams have sprung up across the state and made it to St. Cloud in October 2011.
Gaetz joined the SCAR Dolls in April 2012, six months after it was established.
Gaining a following
After three years, the league continues to grow in popularity in St. Cloud. It was voted “Best sporting event as a spectator” in the St. Cloud Times annual Survey of the Best of Central Minnesota for 2014. It’s a sport that draws in fans of all ages.
Today the league has about 35 skaters supported by coaches, referees and many volunteers who work behind the scenes to help it all happen.
The team is grassroots from the ground up. Everything you see at a bout one of the skaters put together — from production to marketing to finding volunteers and even taping the track, said Alicia Peters ’98, aka Artemisia Brutaleschi.
“All of the hard work that comes from this, comes from us,” she said. “So it does have to be something that you love or it gets to be too much.”
Peters, 41, is a former elementary art teacher who now teaches art pedagogy. She joined SCAR Dolls to get moving.
“I was looking for a way to move my body and stay active,” she said. “Everybody my age is doing 5Ks and running different kinds of marathons. I tried all that and hated it all.
“I found this, and I smile every time I put on my skates — my heart is pounding and I’m sweating and I’m still smiling. So it’s good for my mind and my body.”
Kara Kempenich, a mass communications at St. Cloud State, is one of the youngest skaters on the team at 22. Gaetz is 55.
“There’s such a cross section of people between students and teachers and moms and professionals,” Gaetz said. “You can just kind of relax and be yourself.”
A roller derby mentality is more important than the ability to skate. Sports and athletic ability can be learned.
“We can teach you to skate,” she said. “We want people with a real determination, a spirit in them that makes it fun. It’s very challenging. It’s a mental game. It’s a physical game.”
Kempenich, known in the league as Bianca the B, joined the SCAR Dolls in January and plays on the Gargoyle Brigade.
“I’ve always been super active,” she said, adding that she’d seen the roller derby movie “Whip It.” “It’s just something so different, and I really wanted to be involved in something.”
Rules and regulations
Unlike the scripted story lines of the 1980s, today’s roller derby is overseen by associations with most leagues in the state following Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) rules and protocol. The association has 273 member leagues worldwide and 103 apprentice leagues.
SCAR Dolls follows WFTDA but is not a member.
“There’s actually skills and rules and penalties,” Gaetz said.
“The best way to describe it is it’s exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time.”
Blocker, SCAR Dolls
The skaters practice twice a week at St. Cloud’s Skatin’ Place. Home bouts are usually held at the River’s Edge Convention Center.
New skaters are entered into a baby doll boot camp where they learn to properly skate. Training includes weaving through cones, jumping over cones, skating backward and learning to skate fast and fall safely.
While skaters compete for places on the traveling team and face each other in bouts in an aggressive sport, Kempenich said playing for the SCAR Dolls feels less competitive and more like a family.
“You play against the people you skate with twice a week, which is really fun,” she said. “The team is really close.”
In addition to emphasizing skill, the sport also accentuates safety. Besides skates, a roller derby uniform consists of a mouth guard, elbow pads, wrist guards and knee pads.
The sport itself can take a toll on a skater’s body, but it’s worth it, Kempenich said. “I haven’t been hurt before — just a black eye, a bloody lip. It’s like playing football — only less pads and more elbows.”
The sport has taught Kempenich to take care of herself both on and off the track.
“I know if I rock an all-nighter, I can’t come to practice and be 100 percent. So time management is a huge part of it.”
She’s learned to manage her time between schoolwork, SCAR Dolls and her job as manager of Subway in the Atwood Memorial Center.
Kempenich said the sport has also changed how she relates to people. It’s given her perspective to see that people are capable of more than you’d expect.
Growing up Kempenich was a tomboy — she thought of girls as “wimps.” But not anymore. Coming into roller derby she’d look at the other women in the league and figured half of them couldn’t take her out on the track, but most of them have, she said.
“It gives you respect for the people around you because you don’t know what people are capable of until you’re on the track,” she said.
Peters is a blocker, co-captain of the Gargoyle Brigade and a member of the travel team. She found it hard to turn on her aggressive side for roller derby.
“As a woman, we don’t grow up with contact sports like boys do,” she said. “… Even hockey, when I was growing up girls weren’t supposed to check.”
It was her teammates who helped her unleash the Brutalechi blocker.
“They’re awesome and supportive and encouraging — all the things great teammates are,” She said.
Growing and giving
Word is now getting out about the league in St. Cloud. Kempenich hangs posters about SCAR Doll bouts around campus and the league seeks to get involved in the community whenever possible. The group hosted a photo booth at the Central Minnesota Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk this October at St. Cloud State. Each bout, SCAR Dolls also features a different charity. The community has noticed and has supported SCAR Dolls in return. The group was the charity partner of this year’s Color Vibe 5K held on the St. Cloud State campus.
“The community has kind of grasped us with open arms,” Kempenich said. “As much as we get from the community, we give back.”