Six Taft women balance sport with schedule

When it comes to sports everyone knows that football, baseball, basketball and hockey are physical and popular.

What many do not know is that there is another sport out there that has those same kind of qualities with several twists.

Taft's Heather Manuz, Kara Koenig, Laney Pait, Mandy Gaylord, Terra Bullard and Michelle Kincaid are getting a taste of that sport first hand by taking part in a pair of roller derby teams in Bakersfield.

"It's pushed me to be a better person," Koenig said of the experience.

"I think it changed everyone's self esteem since we started," said Bullard.

Pait and Manuz were the first Taft players out of the six to get interested in roller derby. Manuz called up Pait and asked Pait to go with her and try out in January of 2010 and it took off from there.

"I talked her into it," said Manuz.

Koenig followed in 2011. After leaving for a short period of time she returned this year. Meanwhile Bullard, Kincaid and Gaylord started in January of this year.

"I caught the bug big time," said Manuz. "After seeing the first bout I was hooked."

The Taft players, who range in age from 35-39, are not all on the same team yet.

Currently, Manuz is on the Bakersfield Diamond Divas team while Pait, Bullard and Koenig are on the Divas sister team the Roughcuts.
However, from time to time with injuries and attendance, Bullard and Koenig have competed for the Divas.

Meanwhile Gaylord and Kincaid are on the Sparkles.

There is a difference between the Divas/Roughcuts and the Sparkles.

The Divas are a team that competes against other teams once a month like the Fresno Atomic Assault, San Diego Starlets and West Coast Knockouts and in places like Paso Robles, Santa Cruz and Utah.

Their season also runs between March and November with their home matches taking place at Skateland in Bakersfield.

The Sparkles on the other hand are a group of players looking to get onto the Divas/Roughcuts team.

In order to do so, they need to learn a series of skills including 27 laps in five minutes. They are then tested once a month.

"Once you have passed your skills test then you practice with the team," said Pait.

If they pass, they move up, if they don't they got to be retested in a month while still learning the skills.

However, its up to the coaches in order for a player to be placed on the Diamonds or Roughcuts roster. That is based on skills and attendance.

"We're trying to learn all our skills to participate to get on the floor with everyone else," said Kincaid.

"I am still trying to learn their skills," said Gaylord.

According to the players, a full bout in roller derby is two thirty minute halves.

The object in those bouts is to get your Jammer past the blocker. When a team does that they score. The team with the most points wins the bout.

According to Pait, a Jammer gets a point for every blocker she passes through out the entire jam.

There is a difference between a Jammer and a blocker with the blocker just having to move on the track. Meanwhile a pivot calls the audibles.

"Jammers have to be fast and agile," said Manuz.

"There's so much strategy," said Bullard.

During their bouts, the team will get anywhere between three and 1800 fans. Sometimes they pack the house according to Pait.

"People are within ten feet of the skating," said Koenig. "We usually interact with the crowds."

Yet the players are focused on what they have to do during their bouts.

"We hardly hear anything that's off the track," said Bullard.

One of the unique things about the Diamond Divas is that all the money from the raffles and 20 percent of the ticket sales goes back to charity.

Every year the team will vote on what Kern County charity they will donate to.

Some of the charities they have donated to are Marley's Mutts, Autism Awareness and Wounded Vets.

"I did not know how much they did for charity," said Kincaid.

"We don't make money off our bouts," said Manuz.

A week from Saturday, the Diamond Divas will be competing in a charity roller derby event at Rabobank Arena for the Bakersfield Ronald McDonald House.

Another feature for each player on the team is their "alter ego" names.

Manuz, who is a pivot/block on the team is known as Doll E. D' Muerte while Koenig, who is a Jammer/blocker, is known as Flogging Mauley.
Pait, a Jammer, is known as My Lil Boney. Gaylord's name is Dinky DE fiance while Bullard, who is a blocker/pivot is Drop Kick Booty. Kincaid is known as Wikked Wizzher.

While there are some positives and excitement to roller derby there are challenges in the form of time, injuries and cost.

Aside from their bouts, the team practices three times a week for seven total hours a week.

"It's become a lifestyle," said Koenig.

On top of that the players have regular jobs and families and they have to make the trip from Taft to Bakersfield and back for each practice.

"It's difficult to balance," said Bullard, who is a postal worker by day. "We don't have time for regular friends anymore."

Instead, they have formed a group bond.

"We call each other derby sisters," said Koenig, who works as a preschool teacher. "I think the time commitment is the toughest part."

"It's definitely a support group," said Gaylord.

"We take care of each other," said Manuz. "It's like a sisterhood."

"In roller derby it's like a giant community," said Bullard.

One of the ways they have helped each other out is by carpooling. They are also there mentally for each other.

"We're all there for each other," said Koenig.

The six athletes are not the only players from Taft.

Another Taft resident who takes part in roller derby is Nicole Madsen who recently competed in the X games in Los Angeles.

The second challenge is injuries which include anything from black eyes, bruises and broken ankles.

In one case, Pait had to make a trip to the emergency room once for a hyper extended back while Manuz had a cracked rib.

In the same breath there are rules in roller derby like no tripping and no hitting while the legal zone is between the shoulder and knee.
You also have to use your hips and shoulders according to Koenig. Like hockey, roller derby has a penalty box.

"You can't punch people in the face," said Koenig.

While it is a physical sport, the players don't see themselves stopping.

"Even when I can't play full contact, I still want to be part of the team," said Manuz.

"Even if I had a catastrophic injury, I still will find a way to be part of the team," said Koenig. "You're never forced into retirement."

Another challenge is the cost. It costs $1000 with a combination of $40 for rink time, rollers, skates and pads.

The cost for a beginner is a little different with the cost being in the hundreds of dollars.

No matter the cost, the Divas will allow you to work it off at Rabobank Arena according to the players.

"You can work that off if you work at different events," said Kincaid.

Bullard has seen roller derby from two different angles, one from a referee's standpoint and one with her daughter Kayla, whose nickname is Fatality and is on the Diamond City Minors junior team.

The six athletes are hoping to carry their enjoyment of the sport back to Taft, like holding something like a Fit/No Hit class that involves the exercise of roller derby without the physical contact.

"It's something I would like to see happen," said Pait.

"They're really supportive of us," said Koenig.

"The Divas want to play here," said Manuz.