Elsie Thudd’s Steel City Derby Demons’ Tones

Elsie Thudd is co-captain of the Blitzburgh Bombers, a B team within the Steel City Derby Demons league in Pittsburgh. In real life, when she’s not a jammer for the Bombers, she’s Kati Fishbein–Exhibitions Coordinator at the Society for Contemporary Craft. When I met Ms. Thudd and mentioned I was sure roller derby sounds would make good tones, she agreed. After checking in with her league, and getting their approval, she invited me to record at one of the Derby Demons’ traditionally closed practices at the Romp N’ Roll in Glenshaw, PA.

Thudd’s been with Bombers since 2009, and has a background in skating–she was a competitive figure skater (started that sport when she was 10 years old) and has also been an ice hockey player. “Because of hockey, I knew how to go fast on skates and hit people. Roller Derby is like is like a combination of figure skating and hockey on roller skates.”

Thudd and I met up at the Romp N’ Roll before practice began so that we’d be sure to get some isolated audio of a T-Stop. “I have a reputation for being a super loud stopper,” she said. We both thought it would make a good ringtone. Here’s Elsie Thudd’s T-Stop Alert.

The Bombers began their practice with warm-ups and drills. When I asked Thudd which sounds during practice resonated most with her, she said, “I love the sounds we make during the stop-start drill. The girls are learning speed control–how to sprint and then put on the breaks. To me it’s the sound of a group of girls skating all together–rubber on wood.” Here’s the Steel City Derby Demons’ Stop-Start Tone.

The last is the Jammer Tone. “For this drill we skate in a group, as a pack, so close that we can touch one another with each hand to communicate plays, position, or the position of an opponent in a pack. The jammers are fast and agile. You can recognize them by the stars on their helmets. Playing derby comes with a lot of risk, such as torn ACLs, and PCLs, knee injuries, and separated shoulders. Jammer’s get beat up a lot because they kind of have a target on their helmet. In this drill, the blockers are following the Jammer with their eyes and then they announce where she is going.”

Ouch, I thought as Thudd told me about those injuries. I love roller skating, and part of me wanted to jump out there on the rink and try some of the drills, but if I have one aggressive bone in my body at all, it shows up in a “sport” like debating rather than of skating (especially something as tough as roller derby).

I found myself feeling a whole lot of respect when observing the practice–the ladies were very serious about training for their sport. When I shared with Thudd that I didn’t hear any informal talk between the ladies during practice, she said, “It’s not a bunch of girls coming here to chat and have fun.”

The conversation I did hear during practice was all business–comments from a coach or co-captain making suggestions so that the ladies could improve technique. And when a play or drill was done well, encouraging complements coming from team -management and -mates would quickly follow.

Stickers/image from Steel City Derby Demons website

Respect, Steel City Derby Demons and the Blitzburgh Bombers! Thanks for allowing me to attend a practice to capture some of your sounds for Locally Toned ringtones.

If you’re interested in learning more about the sport of roller derby, you can listen to this recent NPR story featuring Alex Cohen, co-author of the book Down and Derby.

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