Most of the time she’s just Lisa. But when she laces up her roller skates is “Lawless.”
Lisa Whitefoot, Yakama, grew up in the Yakama Nation in Washington. LIke so many others she played basketball -- and in high school she was good enough to play on a college team in a national tournament.
“She was really that good, she’s a really good ball player,” said Debra Byrd, who was the person on the team responsible for her while they traveled.
After high school, Whitefoot would go on to play at the collegiate level for Yakima Valley Community College before walking on at Washington State University. She ended up making the practice squad but never got to play in a game.
In the time following her college basketball career, Whitefoot asked herself, “What do I do now?” She had a void to fill in her life and little did she know the answer would be an uncommon sport found in an unlikely place.
Whitefoot says she was taking a zumba class when somebody approached and asked her to play roller derby, which somewhat caught her off guard given the setting. Having skated only a handful of times up to that point in her life, she figured she’d give it a try and showed up to practice.
“They put me on skates and padded me up and I loved it,” Whitefoot said. “I’ve been playing ever since.”
She loves derby so much, Whitefoot now plays on up to four teams. Whitefoot is the only Native on her team and is the only Native in the league after another Native woman broke her ankle.
At its core, roller derby is like many sports, with two teams competing against one another trying to score more points than the other to win the game. Although there are some interesting nuances and strategy that are unique to the game itself.
For one, teams play offense and defense at the same time. Each team has a “jammer,” designated by a cap with a star on it that’s put over the helmet, who scores points by passing team members as they skate around the track. After a set period of time, the team with the most points wins.
Standing at 5 feet 4 inches tall, Whitefoot often isn’t the biggest or most imposing player skating but that doesn’t stop her from rubbing elbows with her opponents. Whitefoot enjoys the competitive nature of roller derby and the fact different way to exercise because she hates running.
“It’s fun to try and hit people or try to be faster than anybody skating,” Whitefoot said. “It’s an adrenaline rush.”
When she first started competing, she thought she needed a nickname to go by while she skated. So with the help of some colleagues, she became “Lisa Lawless.” Many of the athletes who compete in roller derby have alter ego nicknames because as Whitefoot puts it, they are different people on the track compared to their regular lives.
“A lot of different people are in roller derby, like librarians, doctors, nurses, stay at home moms,” said Whitefoot, who works two jobs as a blackjack dealer and a compliance officer for her tribe.
Roller derby is experiencing a revival of sorts and Whitefoot hopes she can recruit more Native people, particularly Native women, to lace up their skates and join her on the track.
“I think it’s a good way to uplift women, it’s a great community,” she said. “I feel loved by every team that I’ve ever played against, there’s no animosity so it’s just a good, positive experience.”
Kolby KickingWoman is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today. He is Blackfeet/Gros Ventre from the great state of Montana and currently reports and lives in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter - @KDKW_406. Email - firstname.lastname@example.org