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Rat City Roller Derby returns to a rink they used to call 'home'

A bunch of roller derby skaters prepare for a practice bout.
Grace Madigan
Saturday's sold-out bout will mix up their normal four teams. It's what they're calling a 'practice bout' ahead of their regular season.

Seattle’s oldest roller derby league is making its return after a two-and-a-half-year hiatus this Saturday.

Rat City Roller Derbystarted almost two decades ago in 2004 and is a league for women and nonbinary folks. The league drew thousands of fans to their games or as they call them in derby – bouts – at Key Arena. But at the end of 2019, they lost their home rinkand struggled to find a new place before the pandemic shut everything down.

Now, they’re finally making their return to the rink in a space that’s not so new to them — Southgate Roller Rink in the White Center neighborhood.

"To be back in the rink where this league first started is really meaningful," said Molly Hottle, who has been with Rat City since 2018.

"It’s been many years since we’ve skated here as our home but our logo is still on the wall, it’s still known as our home so it’s really exciting to be back here for our first bout back in so long."

Hottle, whose derby name is "Mollytov Cocktail," explained how difficult it was for Rat City during the pandemic. Besides losing the space they practiced and played, they were losing their main source of revenue with their bouts being canceled.

"It's the best way to make friends and hit friends."

"We were nervous about surviving for a while. It was very touch and go financially just because if you don't have events, you can't bring in the money," Hottle said. "And then, of course, rising prices of rent in Seattle and space — everything was stacked against us."

But there were some bright spots during the forced hiatus. Hottle said the explosion of roller derby during the pandemic brought a bunch of new skaters to Rat City.

The league has four teams, three of which are actively practicing right now, and a group that they call the "Rat Lab" where skaters new to the sport or skating can develop their skills. Hottle estimated about two-thirds of Rat City skaters are new to the league.

One newcomer is Lindsey Raker whose derby name is "Lady McDeath." Raker started skating during the pandemic and eventually fell in love with the activity. When she moved to Seattle in 2020 she turned to Rat City to find community.

"It's the best way to make friends and hit friends," Raker said.

Skaters try and block the jammer, the person who is trying to pass everyone else, from scoring points.
Grace Madigan
Roller derby has been reimagined throughout the decades but made a resurgence in the early 2000's in Austin, Texas.

For those who've never seen a derby bout, it's a very physical sport. Alexis Izor, who on the rink goes by "Bento Boxer," has been with Rat City since 2015. They explained that the objective is for each team to send their "jammer" around the track to pass the skaters on the other team who will try and block them.

"The jammer is the one who scores points. So they’re what people would consider the ‘ball’ of the sport," Izor said.

The physicality of roller derby is one of the things Izor loves most about the sport. They explain that derby is geared toward women and nonbinary identifying folks and it allows them to explore a different side of themselves they may not always be in touch with.

"I feel like there aren’t that many spaces—especially growing up—where we were taught to be tough, aggressive, and strong and competitive. So I love that derby provides a space for anyone of all genders to get aggressive and competitive," Izor said.

Despite that roller derby is very much a contact sport, the overall community is really close. Molly Moore who goes by "Moore Butts" has been with Rat City for a decade.

"Everyone that I know thinks I'm crazy for playing this sport because it looks scary. But what I tell people about the community of derby is that there are derby leagues all over the world," Moore said.

"If you went to Paris, if you went to Tokyo, if you went to Abu Dhabi, there's a roller derby team and one of those players would let you practice with them, would maybe let you camp at their house if they had an extra place to stay. This community is truly amazing."

Saturday's bout is not part of Rat City's regular season. It's a celebratory event for both skaters and their fans. The league will spend this season at Southgate Roller Rink but have found a new permanent space, currently under renovation, with the Seattle Derby Brats youth league.

Even though they won't be playing in front of thousands, they'll still be playing in front of a sold-out crowd. You can also stream the bout online to watch the beginning of a new chapter for Rat City Roller Derby.

Grace Madigan covers arts and culture with a focus on how people express themselves and connect to their communities through art, music, media, food, and sport.