Rolling Thunder

Sac’s two roller derby teams combine forces to form an all-star league


The steady rumble of roller skates on a large flat track grows louder from inside a brick-layered warehouse on the outskirts of downtown. On a Tuesday evening in November, women enter the chilly building one by one carrying pairs of weathered skates and chunky duffle bags, plopping their equipment onto an old-fashioned metal bleacher. As soon as skates are laced and helmets are tightened, each person joins the routine, zipping through lap after lap.

derby practice 2

Photo by Nicole Fowler.

Off to the side, tattered boxes chock-full of old skates, helmets, knee pads and other odds and ends seem to tell a story. More than 40 women are gathered here to practice for competition in the sport of roller derby—and tonight marks some of the last sessions before everyone goes on a short winter break for the season. This practice also marks one of the first evenings that Sacramento’s top roller derby teams, the Sacred City Derby Girls and the Sac City Rollers, are practicing together since both the players voted to join forces after 12 years of being separate entities.

The decision to combine both high-level teams, once rivals on the track, was announced in October 2017. Now, this badass all-star team of athletes has a roster that’s more than 70 women strong and collectively known as Sacramento Roller Derby, and their new season is just beginning.

Stronger together


Photo by Nicole Fowler

“Five minutes, ladies!” a toned, blue-eyed woman calls out from the center of a scuffed track inside an 11,000-square-foot warehouse. Her authoritative manner inspires laggers to quickly lace up their skates and get in a few warmup laps. It’s just before 8 p.m., and some women are skating in pairs, perhaps discussing their long workday, as James Brown’s howls echo off the walls. Others stretch their legs and arms as they cruise around the smooth surface to warm up their muscles.

Suddenly, the music stops and everyone gathers in a circle to take turns introducing themselves by the playful derby nicknames each woman has created for herself to expresses her persona and quirky spirit. The women also say what position they enjoy playing—blocker, pivot or jammer—the latter position being the one with the most glory. (See sidebar.)

Sacramento Roller Derby is a 100 percent volunteer-run nonprofit, with dedicated skaters taking on multiple roles within the league. Women sit on the board of directors or serve as treasurer, marketing director, donations coordinator, etc. Everything is governed democratically.


Photo by Serene Lusano

Annie Reksic, a 10-year veteran skater with Sac City Rollers, says the combined team has been “a long time coming.”

“Both leagues started around the same time within the same year, and we’ve always had to share sponsors and a fan base and resources throughout the Sacramento area,” Reksic says. “We both have a lot of the same attributes and goals, and we’ve had these discussions throughout the years about coming together and merging into one megateam.”

For skaters like Shock ’N’ Auburn, time spent as a pivot, blocker and jammer with the Sacred City Derby Girls gave her the experience to help others succeed by training and coaching women of all skill levels. She admits that when she first started, she made close friends with the floor because she didn’t know how to roller-skate whatsoever.

“I ran into the wall at tryouts because I didn’t know how to stop,” she recalls. “I fell a lot. But, they said, ’Well, you have gumption. If you want to come back, we’ll teach you how to skate.’ We practiced three times a week, and the days we didn’t practice, I would work on my stride and work on being comfortable turning around and work on all of the weird, little things that aren’t really the fun part of derby, but the necessary parts of derby.”

Ask any woman how she found roller derby, or how derby found her, and each will share a personal story that is as diverse as Sacramento Roller Derby’s roster. For Bobbypin Vixen, a blocker and pivot who drives more than 140 miles from Dayton, Nevada, to practice twice a week, derby is a sport her family does together.

“[My son] pushed me to lace up some skates at a time in my life when I needed change,” she says. “It took over a year to convince me to do it. After the first practice, spent mostly sitting on my butt because all I could master was falling, I knew I loved it. I needed it.”

Her 14-year-old son, whom she refers to as Peanut Butter Jammer, skates for a junior team in their hometown, and her husband, Jose CanSkateO, is also an official for Sacramento Roller Derby.

“Derby pushes me outside of my comfort zone,” she says. “Comfort zones are beautiful, but nothing grows there.”

We’re not G.L.O.W

Roller derby first experienced a wave of popularity in the 1940s, when its raised, banked-track marathons turned the game into a spectator sport in America, at a time when the bikini just started hitting the beaches and Mount Rushmore was finally completed.

It was broadcast live on television throughout the country to spur interest, but attendance and ratings started to decline throughout the ’60s and ’70s as attention shifted to a more theatrical version of the sport, where athletes donned flashy garb and adopted dramatic characters as found in men’s and women’s wrestling. Derby even staged matches: Picture the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (G.L.O.W.), with its scripted rivalries and cheesy costumes, on roller skates. It was short-lived.


Photo by Serene Lusano

Serious athletes say the biggest misconception about modern roller derby is that the sport consists of women who wear fishnets and booty shorts and purposefully elbow their opponents in the face or send them flying into cement walls.

These imaginative assumptions irk athletes like Lolz Lemon, a blocker for SRD who’s on the mend from a broken-leg injury last year. She sternly points out that elbowing is first and foremost illegal, and fishnets are highly impractical during games.

“When derby began, there was definitely a niche market that was very G.L.O.W.-like,” she says. “It was just as important to win the after-party as it was the game, like, who can drink the most or party the hardest. But now, this avant-garde sport is one of the only highly competitive women’s sports out there that women can easily join everywhere.”

While there is no elbowing allowed, roller derby is a contact sport. Two teams with five players each skate in a pack, counter-clockwise, on a flat track. As the jammer tries to break free and lap the pack, blockers try to make that difficult. There is a lot of hockey-style checking involved.

Miley Makes U Cryrus, a 43-year-old blocker for SRD and mother of two boys, says the sport of roller derby helped her get out of the 9-to-5 rut, and that her sense of self was rekindled by skating with her newfound friends on the track.

“Derby was something that made me identify as me,” she says. “I’m not just this person who just goes to work. I’m an athlete. It’s identified me as being more than my sons’ mom. This is something I do for me, but it also transitions to my kids because they are also young athletes. I think a lot of my perseverance through derby and through injury is reflecting on them and showing them the positive side to athletics at any capacity.” …

READ THE FULL COVER STORY: ROLLING THUNDER. Published in the Sacramento News & Review on February 8, 2018. 

Raise a Glass!

The edible insider’s guide to Greater Sacramento area craft brewers

raise a glass

Photo by Raoul Ortega

Jackrabbit Brewing Co. (West Sacramento)

Known for: Belgian, English, and German-style beers

What to try: Saison, Square Hare Belgian Sour Quad

With plenty of wild jackrabbits hopping around the more industrial areas of West Sacramento, Chris Powell, co-owner of Jackrabbit Brewing Co., says the brewery’s name came naturally. What didn’t was the equipment. Once a lease was secured, Powell and his three fellow brewery owners — his brother, Scott, as well as Ed Edsten and Kevin Hull — bought some old dairy equipment from Craigslist and taught themselves how to weld. Together, paycheck to paycheck, they built their own brewery system. It’s a true, built-from-the-ground-up tale.

“The whole thing was funded by the bootstraps,” Powell says. “We did everything the hard way, but I’m proud of what we built from nothing. It was just us.”

Jackrabbit sold its first kegs in 2013, and since then, the DIY brewery has been developing craft beers that find balance between full and subtle flavors. This can be tasted in its popular Saison, which uses a particular strain of Belgian yeast that’s more than 500 years old.

“It’s tart, very dry, and it’s got some noticeable wheat characteristics with a little bit of stone fruit and apple flavor to it that come from the yeast,” Powell says.

Jackrabbit’s Square Hare, a dark and malty Belgian-style quad, earned No. 1 in the Best of California Commercial Craft Brew Competition 2017 at the California State Fair. Measuring at 11.3 percent alcohol by volume, it’s the perfect winter beer to sip by a cozy fire.

“We’re really passionate about beer and all the different flavors you can create, and the science and the history of it,” he says. “It’s just a really cool thing to delve into.”


Beers from Bike Dog Brewing Co. Photo by Angel Perez

Bike Dog Brewing Co. (West Sacramento, Sacramento)

Known for: Bike- and dog-friendly taprooms

What to try: Mosaic Pale Ale, Dog Years IPA, Milk Stout

Bike Dog Brewing Co. opened its second taproom in Sacramento in September 2017, but its original location in West Sac still is where all the brewing magic happens.

Co-owner A.J. Tendick says he’s a year-round IPA drinker and noticed a huge difference in flavor and quality once he started brewing batches at home.

“With IPAs in particular, freshness matters so much,” Tendick says. “A week-old IPA is considerably different from a month-old IPA. Ten years ago, when I would buy beers at the popular beer store, they would hold them on a warm shelf, which is terrible for flavor stability. But when you brew your own, you get this new hop flavor and aroma, which I wasn’t finding on the shelves.”

Besides its variety of hop-forward IPA varieties, Tendick says another popular beer is Bike Dog’s Milk Stout.

“It’s got this really fantastic blend of coffee and chocolate notes that are just natural from the roasted grains,” he says. “It’s pretty low alcohol, and it’s got a bit of lactose for that hint of sweetness, and it’s such a nice, easy-drinking beer.”

This winter, look for Bike Dog’s Wee Heavy, a Scottish ale that will warm up any cold evening, as well as its Double Mexican Hot Chocolate Milk Stout, which is sort of like a Mexican hot chocolate with cinnamon, a little bit of spice, and cocoa nibs, all at 9 percent ABV. …

The Sacramento area’s rich beer history dates back as far as the 1840s. So it’s no surprise to see the Farm-to-Fork Capital’s craft beer movement surge over the last 10 years. With more than 50 local breweries from Davis to Nevada City perfecting their award-winning recipes, some of the West’s tastiest brews are found right here. From the ever-popular India Pale Ales, with their bitter, hop-forward mouthfuls that often incorporate seasonal fruit for balance, to the darker pints of porters, stouts, and brown ales, Sacramento knows and loves beer. Here are 10 of the area’s craft breweries to visit and savor.

Sudwerk Brewing Co. (Davis)

People's Pilsner CAN Photo (1)

Photo courtesy of Sudwerk Brewing Co.

Known for: German-style craft lagers

What to try: People’s Pilsner, Fünke Hop Farm Saison

Opened in 1989 by Dean Unger and Ron Broward, Sudwerk Brewing Co. aimed to be America’s answer to imported beer, and it was, especially throughout the ’90s. Sudwerk, pronounced “sood-verk,” even managed to survive the recession. In 2013, Trenton Yackzan, grandson of Unger, bought Sudwerk to keep the family legacy alive and to reintroduce the city of Davis and beyond to German-style craft lagers.

“I was four when it opened,” Yackzan says. “My grandpa and his business partner were just two German guys who wanted access to beer as it tasted at home because, at the time, there weren’t many craft breweries.”

In 2009, Unger was going to close the brewery, but Yackzan saw an opportunity.

“We are now focused on redefining what people think about the American lager,” Yackzan says. “The market’s clearly pretty saturated with IPAs and ales and hazy beers. We want to show people a different side of beer because that’s what craft brewing is about. It’s discovery and education and finding new and innovative styles that you never knew existed.”

The University of California, Davis Master Brewers Program also is housed on site at Sudwerk. So if craft beers are your forte, check out the program and learn from one of the region’s oldest breweries. …

READ THE FULL STORY: RAISE A GLASS. Published in Edible Sacramento magaine’s Drinks Issue January 1 – February 1, 2018.