As a child, Heidi Junck was the mild-mannered sort, loving board games and loathing anything athletic. Not surprisingly, she grew up to be a mild-mannered IT consultant. Quite surprisingly, all the while, Junck harbored secret desires of which no one was aware, least of all Junck. Then, about 10 years ago, she went to her first Houston Roller Derby match. Junck was with her husband, whose verdict was unequivocal. You should try out for this, he said.
“The first day of try-outs was the first time I ever intentionally threw myself to the ground,” Junck laughs. “It’s what they teach you to do. I had only taken casual skate lessons as a kid, but lots of our players used to be professional speed skaters. They knew what they were doing.” But so did Junck, apparently. She made the cut, joining Houston’s eight-team league as a ruthless member of the Psych Ward Sirens and adopting the moniker Jekyll & Heidi.
This month brings a marquee double-header to the Bayou Music Center, Houston Roller Derby’s second to last event this season, the semifinals, as it were. The Brawlers will face off against the Valkyries, a young team that’s taken the league by surprise. (Think Astros on skates.) Following that, the Sirens, defending champs for the past five years, will go skate to skate with the Bayou City Bosses, once champions themselves and now looking to make a comeback. (The day’s winners will face off in a championship match next month.)
Despite celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, the Houston Roller Derby League is still struggling to build an audience. That’s unfortunate, Junck says, because derby is way more exciting than its urtexts would lead you to believe (either 2009’s Whip It or 1972’s Kansas City Bomber, depending on your generation). Yes, the personalities really are confident and the skater names creative, but “roller derby is a sport,” says Junck. “It’s a full-contact sport, but it has rules. Derby is a smart person’s game. It’s not just elbowing and beating each other. There’s strategy.”
Houston Roller Derby July 18 at 7.
$12–22. Bayou Music Center, 520 Texas Ave. 713-230-1600. bayoumusiccenter.com