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Roller derby sees revival in Park County

Heart Mountain Wyoming Wreck on Wheels’ Illuminaughty (center) — real name Siina Swanson, of Powell — looks to block a Wild West Wreckers player during a bout Saturday at the Riley Arena Center in Cody. Heart Mountain won 191-182. Heart Mountain Wyoming Wreck on Wheels’ Illuminaughty (center) — real name Siina Swanson, of Powell — looks to block a Wild West Wreckers player during a bout Saturday at the Riley Arena Center in Cody. Heart Mountain won 191-182. Tribune photo by Joe Alberico

Wyoming Wreck on Wheels thriving in Cody

CODY — Amy Nielsen wasn’t impressed by the lack of women’s sporting options in the Park County area.

“There wasn’t much we could do here; there aren’t many women’s sports,” Nielsen said. “There’s not a lot of stuff, as adult women, that we can do.”

So, naturally, she helped bring one of the wackiest sports to Cody.

In October 2013, Nielsen of Powell partnered with fellow Powell resident Siina Swanson to revive roller derby in the Big Horn Basin. Fast forward to 2015, and the Heart Mountain Wyoming Wreck on Wheels are finding success, both in results and community support.

“It’s been a lot of hard work, a lot of fights, a lot of struggles ... there’s a lot of paperwork to it that you don’t realize is there,” Nielsen said. “But it’s starting to pay off, in the type of team we’ve put together and the way the community is starting to turn out for us.”

Swanson said she and Nielsen got the idea to start a derby team after catching on to the sport’s noticeable following in Billings, Mont.

“There’s a derby huge following in Billings and all around ... so, we saw it and decided we wanted to do that too and started a team,” Swanson said.

Judging by the turnout Saturday, Park County residents may have been waiting for someone to take the initiative to put a new team together. An estimated 300 spectators were present for the Wreck on Wheels’ 191-182 victory over the Wild West Wreckers (of Sheridan) on Saturday at the Riley Arena Center in Cody. Nielsen and Swanson said garnering fan support hasn’t been easy, but has been successful through word of mouth and self promotion on Facebook. Recruiting has seemingly been a smoother road for the co-owners however, as the team features six “fresh meat,” or newcomers, this season.

The team, currently 2-0 in competition, fields nine “boutable” girls, meaning nine are eligible to compete. The team is hard to miss, as roller derby squads are traditionally defined by colorful outfits and derby nicknames. The case is no different for the Wreck on Wheels. Nielsen, also known as Pipe Wench, and Swanson, known as Illuminaughty, said the peculiar nature of the sport tends to attract an even more unusual group of participants.

“We’re a different group of girls,” Nielsen said. “I don’t think in any other sport you’d get this variety of girls to come together and have a bond like this.”

“We have a lot of different personalities,” Swanson added. “And from those personalities we can pull from each one that kind of fills a need that the team has.”

First-year head coach Dave Kelly (or Dammit Dave), whose wife competes for the Wreck on Wheels as Pip-N-Squeak, said given the nature of the contact sport, it takes a special type of woman to put on the pads and bout.

“It takes a very tough girl, but it also takes one that’s ambitious ... wanting to go out and play hard to do something like this,” Kelly said.  “It’s a spinoff of hockey, and it’s brutal — it really is.

“But it’s no more violent than hockey or football because these girls toughen themselves up and make sure they can take the hits and take the falls.”

While there is a certain level of violence involved, Nielsen said she hopes future fans will be attracted by the realization that the sport is not what it was during its professional wrestling-like days 30-plus years ago.

“I think people get the idea of how physical it is ... but they think it’s more violent than just physical though,” Nielsen said. “Getting the word out and explaining that it’s not like the [1980s] roller derby is important for our growth. It’s come around since then, and it’s not staged anymore. It’s a legit women’s sport, and there are real athletes out here.”

More information about the Heart Mountain Wreck on Wheels can be found at www.hmwow.org.

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