Belmont’s Roller Derby Queen
By: Kendall Warren
Photo: Kendall Warren
Four years ago, Elizabeth Gortmaker enjoyed physically knocking women down. In fact, she did it semi-professionally twice a month.
Today she spends her time building up future entrepreneurs, both men and women.
Elizabeth, director of center of entrepreneurship for Belmont University is a recognizable face in the business and entrepreneurship department on campus. In 2013, she was recognizable in another way.
She was “SheDevil,” an agile and quick blocker for the Nashville Rollergirls.
“What? No way. When?” said Cynthia Klauber, Elizabeth’s assistant when she found out her boss whipped around a track on roller-skates slamming her slim frame into other women.
For four years, Spandex wearing Elizabeth, was the enforcer for the roller girls, a rag-tag group of women addicted to a slightly violent family/friendly sport.
But Elizabeth wasn’t always a badass.
“I was a total dork in middle school and high school,” she said, laughing. “I was a drum major in the marching band.”
Like many teenagers, her love for music brought her to Belmont University in a city known for music.
It was a big city. It felt close to home. Nashville encompassed her musical passions.
“Nashville made sense,” she said.
An audio engineering major at first, Elizabeth then realized her other passion: business. She combined her passions and became a music business major graduating in 2008, and held a series of music business related jobs.
In 2009, a friend invited Elizabeth to a roller derby match in the Municipal Auditorium.
Elizabeth said she instantly fell in love with the sport.
Afterwards she met the players at an after-game party. She liked them. They liked her. They invited her to open practice the next day.
“I went the next day. Tried out the next month and made the team. I loved it and the rest was history,” Elizabeth said.
For four years, she was one of 15 women on the team in a sport that puts 10 women on the track at the same time. The goal: for each team to get its jammer past the four opponent’s blockers and their jammer.
In her office, Elizabeth pulls up a video of Nashville roller Derby player Rambo Sambo to explain the sport. Decked out in blue and white and black Spandex, she zips around the track.
Elizabeth traces her movements on the screen with the pointing finger of her left hand, the hand that carries her wedding ring.
On their first date she told her future husband of her semi-pro prowess.
Intrigued, Ben wanted to see a match.
“I didn’t know much about the roller derby when I found out…It seemed like this really cool underground thing that I was missing out on. Obviously, her cool factor went up 10 times when I found out,” said Ben.
At his first game, Ben stood amazed at Elizabeth’s abilities.
“It was a little bit of a jaw-drop moment to see her get bumped around and knocking other players down,” he said. “In short, it was a wide-eyed cool moment.”
At 5’9, Elizabeth stands from her desk and side lunges back and forth illustrating her signature move.
“Being one of the tallest girls on the team, I could block most of the track if I lunged out like this,” said stretching her wing span and leg length.
In a physical game, Elizabeth used size to her advantage.
“The taller and smaller girls are quicker and more agile than the larger girls,” she said. Bigger women may hit hard, but slender and tall players like Elizabeth react quicker and can escape.
Elizabeth played around 44 games before retiring. For each, she wore B24 on her jersey and had it Sharpie markered on her arm. It honors her grandfather, a B24 bomber pilot. They had been close, and he would have loved to watch his second granddaughter out of four whip around the course.
Four years after hanging up her skates, sitting in her clean office, Elizabeth says she has found the satisfaction she longed for in a business related job. She plans convocations, talks with students and maintains a large business network.
The colorful stories she tells of her days on the track seem far away. Yet the memories flood as she reaches up for a binder on the top shelf. She cringes from the pain and recalls a shoulder injury she got as a roller derby queen.
Six years ago, to a cheering and yelling crowd, 10 women hurtled , crashed, and barreled down the track. Elizabeth, as SheDevil, careened around the corner, lowered her shoulder and prepared to tackle an opponent. But someone got to her first. She was slammed down. Her shoulder hit hard.
A crunch. A pop. A shot of pain.
Her shoulder was dislocated. Her coach held her down, while a teammate popped it back in place.
“I wanted to go right back into the game, but the coach and the girls wouldn’t let me,” she said.
The injury was temporary. One of many she and her teammates sustained.
Roller derby is a “a fast paced full-contact sport that revolves around speed, endurance, agility, and power,” Elizabeth said.
Due to its grueling nature, it is a sport played mostly by the young who have plenty of time to devote to the sport.
The 15 to 20 hours of weekly practice became too demanding for Elizabeth who not only had a full-time job, but was also enrolled in graduate school.
Reluctantly, Elizabeth hung up her skates in 2013.
Back at Belmont, her office in the Massey Business Center, nothing gives away her badass days. Binders and books line the walls. Students and teachers have no clue.
Now, an avid runner, she uses yoga to relieve the stress of years of brutal contact.
Will SheDevil ever come back out of retirement? “I don’t know, maybe,” she smiled. She shrugged her shoulders and it didn’t hurt.