Cincinnati Rollergirl rookie Sydney “Big Ugly” Greathouse is anything but unsightly. She has an infectious smile to match her peaceful demeanor, which probably has something to do with the fact that she blows off steam by beating up her friends at practice three times a week.
The 6-foot-tall blocker selected her derby name as a way to jokingly compare herself to football linebackers. From this fact alone, one can understand three important things about Greathouse: She’s easygoing, she doesn’t take herself too seriously and she’s not interested in what anyone thinks of her.
“I just don’t give a shit,” she says of taking risks on the track. “And I don’t care if I have to skate as fast as I can to knock someone out; I’m going to do it. And if I miss, I’ll hit ’em the next time.”
That’s the mentality that has helped Greathouse and her teammates survive and thrive in the derby world. The Cincinnati Rollergirls (CRG) are a group of driven, talented athletes who play to win, which is what they’ve been doing consistently this season — CRG’s “A” team, the Black Sheep, are 5-1, and the “B” team, the Violent Lambs, are 2-1 so far.
For Greathouse and many of her teammates, being a part of the CRG is an indispensable means for working off bad energy and building physical and mental strength. Greathouse began preparing for tryouts shortly after her father passed away in 2011. Miles away from any relatives and raising her daughter as a single mom, she put on her skates and decided to train.
“I thought I’d give it a try, and try something to keep from going into a big funk,” Greathouse says, “and I was hooked after that.
Not everyone who makes the team gets to play competitively, so it’s kind of a big deal that Greathouse made it onto the Lambs roster after only one season on the team. And she was by no means an experienced skater when she decided to plunge into the sport.
“I could skate, which I was surprised I could still do, because I don’t think I could even ride a bicycle anymore,” Greathouse recalls. “But I didn’t learn how to stop — one of those required stops — until about two weeks before tryouts. I was kind of freaking out about that.”
Once she was on the team, there was no turning back. Roller derby has an incredibly high turnover rate, but something about the sport took hold of Greathouse and hasn’t let go since.
“If you’re not going to believe in yourself, no one else is going to, so we just push ourselves as hard as we can and try to skate faster than the person beating us,” she says. “Try to make the most athletic person look tired. It’s just very competitive, but we’re all very supportive of each other.”
When she’s not knocking girls on their asses or sneaking in extra workout sessions, Greathouse works as a paralegal downtown and raises her 6-year-old daughter, who is already enrolled in skating classes.
“Yeah, she was asking me when she gets to hit people in her skating class,” she says, laughing. “I’m like, ‘No! No! That doesn’t happen yet, don’t do it! Just practice rolling backward and forward and stuff like that.’ ”
While Greathouse is thrilled that roller derby awareness and popularity seem to be at an all-time high, there are some stereotypes she wishes she could clear up. “We’re not strippers on roller skates,” she says, rolling her eyes. “There’s some flair with the shorts and stuff like that, but we’re athletes and we work really hard.”
Sit in on any CRG practice and the insane level of physical work and endurance the players exert is evident. The atmosphere during two-and-a-half hour practices at the Cincinnati Gardens is intense as Greathouse and her teammates shuffle back and forth across the track performing drills, sprinting, speeding up and practicing stops in rapid succession.
While endurance drills aren’t exactly Greathouse’s idea of fun, she values every bit of work that goes into making her a better skater. “The stronger you are, the less likely you are to have someone knock you over,” she says. “It’s a good feeling to have someone try to knock you over, and you can just give them a dirty look, skate away and go about your business.”
CINCINNATI ROLLERGIRLS face Toronto Roller Derby and The Dire Skates Saturday at the Cincinnati Gardens. cincinnatirollergirls.com.