Nashville Rollergirls' Lady Fury Takes Us Inside Roller Derby

That’s How She Rolls

Founding Nashville Rollergirl Lady Fury reflects on a decade of bumps, bruises and brawls

Never underestimate the ability to wish something into existence.

One night in 2006, personal trainer and fitness instructor Kristina Grundy was watching an episode of “Rollergirls” on A&E and thinking, ‘I have got to do that.’

Less than a month later, she took to the track for the first time as Lady Fury.

“I had never seen roller derby, and I was totally hooked by what those girls were doing,” Grundy says.

“I knew I was made for it. I was working at a restaurant at the time, and began telling everybody that I needed to get into roller derby. Three weeks later, a bouncer I worked with met Mayhem N. Suze at a wedding, and she told him a team was forming.

“I got in touch, went to my first open skate a week later … and I’m still here.”

Lady Fury seldom, if ever, backs down from the opportunity to get up close and personal with opponents. Credit: Keith Bielat/Derby With Recess
Lady Fury seldom, if ever, backs down from the opportunity to get up close and personal with opponents. Credit: Keith Bielat/Derby With Recess

Finding a new kind of tribe

Getting involved in group activities is nothing new for Grundy, a self-described “Air Force brat” who grew up all over the United States. However, until the advent of roller derby, those activities were a bit more passive.

“I was always joining things, but it was more artsy stuff,” she says. “Art classes, theater groups, nature walks … groups of people, but more social than athletic.”

Bigger, better, badass: Lady Fury find strength and empowerment on the flat track.
Bigger, better, badass: Lady Fury find strength and empowerment on the flat track.

It was hard for her to make friends because her family was uprooted so often, but she always wanted to be a part of things. So while roller derby is a far cry from working backstage at a play, one activity did prepare her for the other.

“It’s all a team, really,” Grundy explains.

“If you’re putting on a play there are the actors, the stage manager, the set designer … a lot of people. It’s that way with roller derby, because we have the coaches, the referees and so many others.

“I learned in everything I did as a kid the importance of working together, and so I have carried that into the Nashville Rollergirls. I don’t see a lot of difference, except with roller derby you’re a lot more out of breath! And a bit more physical.”

Grundy’s roller derby persona is a departure from who she is off the track, and so skating has allowed her to cultivate an alter ego in ways that, other than onstage, might be difficult.

“People are always saying that I’m so sweet, which is nice because I like to think I am,” she says. “But they see this little, strong scary skater who is very intimidating.

“I kind of think I am like a hot-pink M&M, all hard candy shell but then soft and gooey in the middle.”

“But not regular pink. Definitely hot pink.”

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Learning the ropes

In the early days of the Nashville Rollergirls, they were focused just on learning how roller derby was done, and getting the team off the ground.

Soon they would join with Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, which led to bouts in both Nashville and on the road against teams from all around the United States.

Over time, a b-squad was formed, as interest from women all around Middle Tennessee grew with each successive season.

“It’s got a lot of appeal, because these girls are super strong, confident badasses,” Grundy says.

“I’d always loved roller skating since I was little bitty, but I’d never seen it matched up with this sense of female empowerment.

“I was at a place in life where I was scared to grow, and roller derby came along exactly when I needed something to build the best version of myself.”

She hears similar stories all the time, so the sport’s growth both in Nashville and elsewhere doesn’t surprise her.

“I’ve mentored a lot of women, because I think 80 percent of women who see a bout wind up wanting to play,” she says.

“It doesn’t matter what walk of life they grew up in, or are in now, they see what’s happening on the track and they want some of that.

“It’s empowering, confident, strong … you cannot help but be attracted to the game, whether it’s as a skater or a volunteer. You really do become part of a bigger thing in terms of your own growth.”

Is it fake? Not according to X-rays

Bumps and bruises come with the territory, but all the work for roller derby also keeps Lady Fury in top shape. Credit: Keith Bielat/Derby With Recess
Credit: Howard Schwartz/The Rollergirl Project

While Grundy would no doubt like to skate forever, she admits that derby is tough on the physique.

To wit, a decade on the track has led to:

  • A torn meniscus in her right knee
  • Torn right-shoulder labrum (both of which required surgery)
  • A broken right wrist
  • Torn left-leg ACL
  • A few dislocated shoulders (“I can put them back now, or do it for you if need be. We have kind of become doctors just so we can be more efficient with self-medical care.”), and lastly
  • A “brutal” concussion that “messed me up a little bit.”

Over time, she’s played every position, but prefers to be a jammer. For the uninitiated, a jammer (see sidebar/footer) is the one with a star on her helmet.

These days Grundy describes herself as a “proud utility,” willing to roll in wherever she’s needed.

That means she’s gotten in plenty of skating time, but also that she has had to remain committed to a brutal training schedule that all the skaters endure.

“We have to attend at least 60 percent of the practices offered,” she explains. “My week is close to three hours’ practice every Monday, Wednesday and Sunday, and then strength training on the side.

“It’s a huge commitment. Many of us joke that we’re married to roller derby, because there’s no real chance of going out and meeting somebody.”

“But you have to put the work in to be good at it, and we know that.”

Derby’s popularity soars here and abroad

Over her decade on the track, Grundy has seen women’s roller derby take off in Nashville.

From early bouts at the Nashville Fairgrounds (“believe it or not, an intimate experience”) to playing to packed houses at the Nashville Civic Auditorium, the fan base continues to grow.

Focus in a key component of success in roller derby, so Lady Fury says she gives it her all when she's on the track.
Focus in a key component of success in roller derby, so Lady Fury says she gives it her all when she’s on the track. Credit: Danforth Johnson

“We thought it would take off, and we were right,” she says.

“It’s the fastest growing female sport in the world, with more than 500 leagues worldwide now.”

“And it’s not just skaters; there are volunteers, coaches, referees and a lot of other people involved. I still meet people who don’t know that we have a team in Nashville, but most people know we’re here. We’re drawing in thousands of people for our bouts now, and that’s just awesome.”

In fact, playing to the bleachers is her — and many others skaters’ — favorite pastime when not slinging opponents around.

“I love putting myself in that mental place, of getting out there and skating,” Grundy says.

“But as much as I love what I do, I love the people who are up there screaming my name. There’s nothing like that.”

“I start skating better and faster, and hitting harder, because they are cheering for me. That ups the awesomeness that’s already happening by 10 times as much.”

And even though this may be her last season as a full-time skater (subject to change, mind you), there are certain aspects of roller derby that will accompany Grundy through the rest of her life.

“I’ve got more girlfriends than I ever had in my life, I get to release aggression on the regular and go out and hit people,” she says.

“My parents named me Kristina, but God named me Fury because that’s the badass version of Kristina.

“As I’ve become empowered, I’ve become 100 percent of myself.”

“I would say that roller derby took me and transformed me into a finer-tuned version of myself.”

Power Play — Why they do it

Few people line up for the opportunity to get smacked around, banged up and bruised, but the women of the Nashville Rollergirls can’t get enough of it, and are more than happy to tell you why:

Seam Ripper (Jesse Roop)

“I worked at a skating rink in Hendersonville in high school, so I knew how to skate, at least. I thought roller derby looked fun, but I couldn’t do it because I was in college and then working at night. When I got a day job, I was skating a week later. It’s about being in full control of your body, and being able to stop on a dime. The time commitment is huge, but I just fell in love with it. Even when I got a concussion and had two take two months off, I couldn’t wait to get back into it.”

“I love the community, the people I skate with and our fans. I look at derby as my extended family. If I was going to New York, I could email and find someone to stay with. When I was unemployed, I connected with a skater in New York who began a skate boot line, Brooklyn Skate Boots. I’m a fellow seamstress, so she sent me some information about the facility here that makes their boots. I’ve never met this woman, but she was willing to help me out and try to make a connection for me. That’s what I love.”

Seam Ripper loves the control that roller derby gives her.
Seam Ripper loves the control that roller derby gives her. Credit: Daniel Whitaker

Sinister Minister (Autumn Dennis)

“I got into it when I was going to college, and came back to it during grad school. There’s a lot to learn physically and mentally. I became so addicted to it, and it makes me happy. It makes a nice change from my studies in divinity school, I can certainly say.”

“Roller derby is a great community, both within the team and outside. When you join the league, you have 50 new best friends. We’re all really diverse, and I’m close friends now with people I might not know or interact with otherwise. We’re all from different walks of life, and it’s wonderful for me to see all these different perspectives. I love seeing how someone else does the drill in terms of living their lives. It’s so rewarding.”

It ain't the pulpit, but Sinister Minister says she learns from her teammates and opponents every day.
It ain’t the pulpit, but Sinister Minister says she learns from her teammates and opponents every day. Credit: Daniel Whitaker.

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