By Angel Ellis/Mvskoke Media
Reprinted with permission.
The whir of the four wheels, the distinct screech of a toe-stopper on a skate floor and crash of bodies colliding at the wall echo through the Rollerdome skate rink.
A clapping of skates on the floor reminds the spectator it is not the skating experience many remember featuring dance music and club lights.
This is something grittier. This is roller derby and “Jammer” Joshua Ciudad del Valle is as comfortable here with his wheels, helmet, and knee pads as most people would be walking around in sneakers.
A seven-year veteran on the Tulsa Junior Roller Derby team the Tulsa Derby Brats, Joshua said he wasn’t always at home on roller skates.
“I was more use to rollerblades than the derby style skates when I first started,” Joshua said.
Joshua was first exposed to the sport through his mom who watched a derby competition and signed up with a team. At that time he was in elementary school.
One of the first things he noted that made derby different from regular skating was the protective equipment.
“I thought it was weird to have to skate with all these pads and a mouth guard on,” Joshua said. “But after watching I realized it was because they do hits, drills and endurance stuff.”
While the sport is physical, he said there are proper ways to compete and much training goes into preparation.
“If you fall, you are taught to make a fist in fall drills,” Joshua said. “You don’t ever leave your fingers spread out where they could be run over by skates.”
The sport may have plenty of intensity, but it also leaves room for self-expression such as Ciudad’s skating moniker, ‘2Braidz’, stitched on his jersey.
“My first derby name was ‘Dragon Force’ because I liked the band,” Ciudad said. “But ‘2Braidz’ really started when people said ‘2Chainz’, like the rapper but since I wore my hair in braids, it became ‘2Braidz’… that’s how it started.”
He said derby can also get pretty rough.
“Blocker and Jammer drills can be intense,” 2Braidz said.
2Braidz said part of the difficulty with derby is scoring. It requires a Jammer to make their way to the front of a rolling wall of humans not once but twice.
“When they go through the first time, they get lead jam but no point,” 2Braidz said. “But on the second time around that is when they start getting points.”
He is the lone derby player among his friends despite having exposed a few friends the sport.
“All my friends play other sports,” 2Braidz said. “But I did take a friend along before; he just didn’t seemed to think it was cool but didn’t like it as much as me.”
His love of derby did not happen from a lack of trying more mainstream sports.
“When I was a little kid I tried soccer and baseball,” 2Braidz said. “I just got tired of the swinging and running and was interested in more physical stuff.”
While he may be one of a kind among school friends, he is not alone. Roller derby has become a part of the family.
“My mom and sister have competed in roller derby,” 2Braidz said. “Even my five-year-old niece is learning.”
Ciudad said his mom’s derby name is ‘Muthabear,’ and his sister goes by ‘Spock.’
“When my niece gets started, she is going to go by ‘Madmags,’ like the Mad Max movie,” 2Braidz said.
Having a young niece learning the sport at home and being one of the older players on the team has him mentoring some of the younger players.
“I help them out some with techniques,” 2Braidz said. “If I can show them how to maneuver their hands, arms, and feet better when they are in the wall I do.”
He said one of the important things with dealing with the younger kids is patience.
“It’s better to show them things and not get mad at them when they don’t know,” 2Braidz said.
2Braidz sister Brittany Bear said derby is full contact making safety and toughness important.
“You are getting hit, and you are hitting people,” Bear said. “After derby, some sports can seem boring.”
2Braidz said his most daunting experience with the sport was when he competed on an all-male team. He said they were very physical.
“I ended up with a concussion,” 2Braidz said.
His dad, Joseph Ciudad said it was hard to watch.
“He took the first hit and went down but got back up,” Joseph said. “But on that second hit he didn’t, and when we looked at his helmet later it had cracked in half.
2Braidz said the sport he has given him a sense of personal achievement.
“There was the time I got my first MVP,” 2Braidz said. “That really pushed me to work even harder. I started getting named most valuable jammer or blocker.”
He said those awards were important. They gave him the confidence to go try out for team USA.
Excellence on the derby rink has been handed down through the family.
“Once my mom and I both received an MVP in the same competition,” Brittany said. “I got most valuable jammer and my mom got blocker, they didn’t even know we were related.”
As a Muscogee (Creek) in derby, 2Braidz has found the opportunity to connect with other native people in the sport. He is also Cherokee and Seminole. 2Braidz has made native friends as he has traveled to compete.
“Up in Colorado, I’ve met other native skaters,” 2Braidz said. “I’ve met some Navajo and Comanche which is cool.”
“I’ve just tried out for Team Indigenous,” Bear said. “I’m coming back from an injury so I’m not sure if I will make the team.”
Bear said Team Indigenous is made up of native skaters from all over North and South America and they are bound for the World Cup. She wishes Team Indigenous had juniors so that more native kids could find interest in the sport.