Just off Idlewild Road sits a warehouse which appears to be nothing more than an old airline manufacturing plant, however, inside you may be surprised to find taped lines in the form of an oval, benches, and roller skates.
For many Mississippi girls, this is their go-to spot; this is where the dirt hits the fan… literally.
For Amy Duclos, roller derby has become an obsession. On any given night you may find her at the Starkville Roller Skating Rink, or perhaps in the more official roller derby rink, located in the heart of Columbus, Miss.
Here you will find 10 or more, tough, possibly tattooed, tight wearing, trash-talking derby girls - ready to brawl.
Duclos said skating is her life. That is, outside of her three kids and her husband Martin, “The Canadian”, as she affectionately refers to him. According to Duclos, he is the most supportive husband around.
“After starting derby, I was the happiest freakin’ person on the planet,” Duclos said. “I would wake up, and that is all I could think about was going to skate. Even though it was just four hours a week, it was like those two days were fabulous. Nobody could get under my skin, nobody could make me mad, it didn’t matter if the house was a mess or the kids fought all day, I didn’t care, I got to skate.”
After losing her brother to a cocaine overdose in December 2008, the world seemed to close in on her. Between her brother’s death, and more recently, two miscarriages; Duclos felt trapped and bogged down, which ultimately led to depression.
As a child, Duclos lived in skates. Hanging out at the local skating rink on weekends and during the summer had helped fine-tune her skills. This love continued after having three children of her own, and she would often take her own kids down to the rink.
One particular evening after skating with her kids, a couple of girls with tattoos, face piercings, and crazy clothes came over to her and told her that she should play derby. Duclos had no idea what derby was.
As a result of her second, but still raw miscarriage, Duclos found herself in a very low place. Happiness was difficult to come by during this time, and she found herself feeling extremely bitter and cynical. So, two nights a week of roller derby seemed like the thing to do.
“Slowly those two days started to seep into the rest of the week, and I really do think it pulled me out of depression,” Duclos said. “It’s now been two years since I’ve felt affected by it.”
Even her mother, Martha Ward, commented to her about the effects skating had on her daughter.
“I’m really glad you’re doing roller derby,” Ward said, “You’re a lot happier because of it.”
Derby has become a part of everyday life in the Duclos household. Not only does Amy “Susie Packwrecker” Duclos referee every Thursday night for the Mississippi Brawl Stars, but she also travels with the team, holds fundraiser’s, and has a derby wife who has helped her through her journey.
According to Duclos, each new derby girl gets a derby wife, who not only shows her the ropes, but essentially becomes her second mom. Packwrecker’s derby wife is not just someone she associates with for derby, but she is one of her bestfriends.
For the Mississippi Brawl Stars, roller derby is more than just elbows, “jams”, and blocks; its family. There is not time to worry about girls who irritate you, Duclos said. Even if one of them is a “heifer”, you get over it, because everyone is needed, and because it’s roller derby.
As we headed into the scrimmage game Thursday night, Duclos warned me that the other girls would try to convince me to become one of them.
“They’ll want you to be a jammer for sure, they’re the fastest; they’re the ones who score the points,” Duclos said. “Just tell them you’re here to observe.”
As we entered the old warehouse, it was like walking into another world. The musty smell penetrated your nose, the fluorescent lights hung low below the exposed rafters, and the heaviness of the air enveloped you. Elbow pads, knee pads, fish-net tights (some with skeleton prints on them), boy-shorts, and purple helmets, gave the feeling of padding up for a skateboarding event or a football game. As girls tightened laces, fastened helmet’s, and padded up, you could tell this was no school-girl brawl, this was serious business.
As Packwrecker blew the first whistle, which signaled to the pack to start, the girls took off. The grace and speed at which Packwrecker skated around the track was awe-inspiring, if not intimidating. It was not difficult to see the joy and fulfillment that skating allows Amy “Susie Packwrecker” Duclos.
“I get a thrill when I’m the fastest on the track, I’ve got big-girl thighs and they push me good,” Duclos said. “I’d rather be on skates than my own feet, I feel so comfortable and good in my skin - when I’m on skates.”