Hell on Wheels

 Cynthia Moreno is the fearless captain of the first-ever women’s flat track derby league on the Emerald Coast. Now in its third year, the Beach Brawl SK8R Dolls, describe themselves as a charitable organization “dedicated to the empowerment of women and the protection of children.” Photo by Shelly Swanger
Hell on WheelsCynthia Moreno is queen of the Beach Brawl SK8R Dolls 
by Ann McQueen

By day, she’s a reliable employee, working for a government contractor in engineering. She’s a full-time student at the University of West Florida, working toward a bachelor’s degree in psychology. After four years of active duty in the U.S. Air Force, including six months in Iraq, she now serves in the Air Force Reserves. She owns three dogs and a cat. She’s a daughter. She’s a friend.

She’s also “Imp Priss,” captain of the Beach Brawl SK8R Dolls, Fort Walton Beach’s women’s flat track roller derby team. The Navarre resident, also known as Cynthia Moreno, says the “Imp Priss” name is a good fit.
“My friends always say I remind them of an imp,” which she defines as “a small, demonic fairy-like creature that does really awful things.”

When Moreno first saw roller derby on an episode of the Arts and Entertainment Television series “RollerGirls,” she was hooked.

“I fell in love. I said, ‘I have to do this,’” she said. When the opportunity arose to attend an introductory meeting locally, she seized it, and in 2008, she co-founded the SK8R Dolls.

Derby girls always use descriptive monikers on the track.

At 5-feet 2-inches, this soft-spoken and reserved young lady may not seem intimidating, but when she laces her quads and takes to the track, she becomes a force to be reckoned with. A fast and agile jammer, she dodges a barrage of hips and shoulders by darting around, under and in between her opponents with only one thing in mind — scoring. As a blocker, she’s competent and smart with her size. She pours her heart into her own performance, as well as into leading her team to victory. She values sportsmanship above all. She wins with her brain.

“I love the athleticism, the camaraderie and the growth, not just as an individual, but also as a team, as a league and as a sport,” she said.

Bouts, or games, are fast paced, high scoring and very physical. Unlike the sports entertainment shows popular in the 1960s and 1970s, which Moreno calls “our mothers’ roller derby,” contemporary derby is legitimate.

“Before the derby revolution, it was staged, like the old wrestling,” she explained.

 Photo by Shelly Swanger Photo by Shelly Swanger

It is played on one of two types of tracks. The banked track, a leftover from old-school roller derby, is still used today in some leagues, but it is expensive to build and house. The flat track, which can be played anywhere on any surface with boundary lines marked in tape, emerged as a less expensive and more accessible option.

The sport is governed by the Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby Association. Member teams are eligible for national rankings and can offer direction to the sport’s future. Moreno is working toward earning membership for the SK8R Dolls. Ultimately, she hopes to see flat track derby become an Olympic sport.

There’s nothing staged about the broken wrists, elbows and collarbones that are common, along with damaged ligaments, rotator cuffs and separated shoulders.

“You train to protect yourself,” she said. “It’s like football. Not everybody gets hurt.”   

The disappointment isn’t staged, either. Like every serious athlete, the emotional pain is worse than the physical,
Moreno said.

After graduating from high school in Riverdale, Ga., she moved here in 2004 when she was stationed at Hurlburt Field as a helicopter mechanic. She’s not sure what her future holds once she graduates from college, but one thing is certain. She will continue to bout, jam and block her way to the front of the pack with enviable focus and admirable sense of fair play.

A derby lingo primer:

Bout: A roller derby match consisting of two 30-minute halves. The term is borrowed from boxing, since derby matches are fights to the end.

Blocker: Positional players who form the pack to block the jammer from scoring points.

Jam: Two-minute races or plays between teams to score points.

Jammer: The point scorer. The jammer wears a star on her helmet.

Lap:  A complete pass through the pack.

Pack:  The largest group of blockers skating in proximity (within 10 feet). Members of both teams can form a pack.

Runt:  The newest, least experienced or weakest opposing skater.

Suicide Seats: Floor seats closest to the track. They are considered the best seats for up-close action. Most leagues set a minimum age requirement for safety reasons.

Quads: Four-wheel speed- style skate boots.