By Nicole Hennessy
One night, during her freshmen year of college, a 2008 Fairview High School graduate named April Homolak went to see a roller derby movie called “Whip It.”
In the lobby was the Ohio Roller Girls team. Handing out fliers, they were looking for recruits and answering general questions about the league.
Conveniently, Homolak was looking to participate in something besides the activities offered by The Ohio State University, something she could continue after college.
Having tried out, she soon became part of the team. No equipment or experience was necessary. “They teach you everything,” she said.
Derby teams take their sport seriously, practicing five days a week and traveling on the weekends.
Among women of varying ages and backgrounds, on Homolak’s team there are moms, professors and students. She sees it as a subculture with a sense of camaraderie unique to derby. With an afterparty at the conclusion of each game, teams get a chance to socialize with each other, regardless of who injured whom during the games, referred to in the league as “bouts.”
“It’s its own culture,” Homolak said of derby, “which is really cool.”
Wanting to push themselves further, the Roller Girls decided to participate in the Tough Mudder competition, a 12-mile obstacle course they vowed to complete as a team. Some of the women had no experience with running, especially in a race billed as “probably the toughest event on the planet.”
In high school, Homolak ran track. Still, the thought of pushing her body through what ended up taking her more than four hours seemed daunting. Luckily, she had her team behind her, helping her scale 12-foot walls and overcome her fear of dropping about 30 feet into a quarry, after which participants must immediately swim.
On a cold, rainy April day in South Amherst that some would find to be miserable, Homolak said it just made for more excitement. While the course is 12 miles long, there are various rest points participants can take advantage of. Relaxing with a snack, though, they know that soon they’ll have to start running again.
“It was intense,” Homolak laughed.
A fundraiser for the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that helps injured service members, the Tough Mudder competition holds events each month all over the world, and has so far raised about $3 million in donations collected by competitors.
“Every dollar raised is well-spent,” the website ensures, listing areas the money goes to, such as providing combat stress recovery programs, adaptive sports programs, benefits counseling and employment services.
Through sponsorships and general donations, Homolak was able the raise $300, and said the entire event raised about $70,000.
“There were wounded warriors at Tough Mudder – which was amazing,” she said, inspired by the fact that some of them finished before her.
At the end of each competition, dirty and exhausted, participants are rewarded with free food, a T-shirt and beer. While some people finished in half the time, the Roller Girls’ goal was to finish as a team – and that’s exactly what they did.
Interested in competing on drastically different terrain, “I’m definitely doing this again,” Homolak said.