The image of bodies bashing and skates skidding around a dark, indoor track may sound frightening, but all the Bloomington Bleeding Heartland Rollergirls need do is throw in some mascara, fishnet tights and a seasoned athlete to make their sport a riveting, fun ride.
Tyler “Kaka Caliente” Ferguson joined the roller derby club seven years ago, and has not put her skates down since.
“It (is) amazing sharing the roller derby track,” said Ferguson, who is currently the team’s jammer, the quarterback position of derby. “It is a really cool feeling ... lots of people in a small space.”
Ferguson joined Bleeding Heartland after a long and impressive semi-professional sports career in both soccer and ultimate Frisbee.
“She’s been an athlete for a long time and she’s easy to coach,” said Chris Lynch, Bleeding Heartland Rollergirls coach. “She’s very motivated to be better, which is saying a lot because she’s one of our best skaters.”
“When I was a little girl, I just felt like I was supposed to be an athlete. Every single fantasy I had revolved around being the star of some game,” Ferguson said. “In the ‘70s, you didn’t see women’s volleyball or women’s soccer. You didn’t see women’s team sports. I knew I was passionately in love with the game of soccer.” She played high school soccer for four years, then came to Indiana University to play competitive soccer. However, it was not until after she graduated from IU that women’s soccer became a varsity sport.
“Many of the women I played with on that team live in Bloomington,” Ferguson said. “It was a pretty great experience.”
While in college, Ferguson found time to cultivate a passion for ultimate Frisbee. “Ultimate provided the kind of outlet I was looking for,” Ferguson said. “Soccer didn’t really offer that.”
Ferguson moved to Portland, Ore., to play with Swarm, a nationally competitive women’s ultimate Frisbee team. She played with Swarm for three years, the third year being the year Swarm qualified for a national championship.
“It was bittersweet,” Ferguson said. “Right before qualifying I met my now husband in Bloomington. ...My priorities and loyalties split. After we made it to nationals, I left Portland and moved back to Bloomington.”
Ferguson tried to start a competitive ultimate team in Bloomington. She gathered a group of women to participate in three successful tournaments before seeing the team fall apart.
“People moved away, the team fell apart,” Ferguson said. “It was frustrating to try and keep reinventing it.”
After getting back into coaching soccer for four years, Ferguson happened upon an interesting opportunity in 1998.
“I read about women’s leagues in Indy for post-soccer college women,” Ferguson said. “What is there to lose for trying out? I knew that I wouldn’t make the team on skill, I thought if I could just show up and be crazy fit and out-run people they’d maybe take me as a practice player.”
Ferguson was in for a surprise.
“I made the team, I couldn’t believe it,” Ferguson said. Ferguson’s excitement was so overwhelming that she took a wrong turn driving home. “I missed 37, drove around 465...I was really super excited.” Ferguson played two seasons with the Blaze before leaving the team.
“It was a really fun experience. I had a really great first season,” Ferguson said. “When my soccer career ended, I went back to ultimate.” She played on a co-ed team from South Bend and competed in two national championships.
“One of the things I had always wanted to do was play in a world championship,” Ferguson said. She received a call from a co-ed team in Portland. Some of that team’s players couldn’t afford to go to the national championship in Australia; the team offered Ferguson a spot.
“It was a little intimidating,” Ferguson said. When she first stepped foot into the players’ room in Australia, they welcomed her by handing her a playbook.
“I studied the book, threw around the next day, then played in the five-day tournament. (The team) finished sixth or seventh, lost in the quarter finals to the eventual winner.”
When Ferguson returned to the United States, she thought, “I’m hanging up my cleats, I’m done with ultimate, I’m done with soccer.” In an interesting turn of events, however, Ferguson found her life’s passion in a new sport.
“She’s full of energy. ... Not only is she one of our older skaters, but she’s one of our more seasoned skaters,” Lynch said. “And yet, she’s never reached a plateau. She’s always looking to improve. That really shows in her skating.”
Part of Ferguson’s experience playing derby has been bonding with and learning from other strong, confident women.
“The mind and the body are working together to help you become better,” Ferguson said. “I discovered my femininity in derby. ... It was a really good lesson for me to know that you can be an athlete and still be a female.”
Ferguson’s teammates are grateful to have Ferguson on the team.
“Playing roller derby itself is very exhilarating and motivating. Playing with Tyler is especially so,” said Laura “Shock n’ Roll” Vineyard, Ferguson’s teammate. “It’s been a really great ride to be playing with her because she has a real knack for the understanding of sports and how to take everybody to the next level.”
Ferguson and 42-year-old teammate Stacey “Pele’s Melee” Groves are among the older players on the team.
“I’m lucky to belong to a league where (age) is no big deal. No one seems to notice the age differences, and definitely no one seems to care about it either,” Groves said. “My favorite thing about playing roller derby with Tyler is Tyler herself. She has great energy, a great personality, and she never gives up. If something about the sport has got her stumped or if we are learning a new skill at practice, she stays with it until she masters it. It’s never a question of ‘if’ with Tyler, only ‘when.’”
One of the most interesting parts of derby is chooing a derby name.
“Intelligent people are attracted to the game (of derby). With great minds comes people who can appreciate literacy and word play,” Ferguson said. “(The name) allows them to be someone they never thought they could be.”
Like most players’ derby names, Ferguson’s is symbolic of her personality on and off the track.
“I love word play ... I really wanted to bring my soccer life into my name,” said Ferguson, who dubbed herself “Kaka Caliente,” “Kaka” being a male soccer player in Brazil and “caliente” being “flashy.” Ferguson also notes the double entendre in the name, between “kaka” and “caca.”
While skating provides a form of fitness, Ferguson most appreciates the mind-body connection of derby.
“A lot of people have really found inner strength through derby that they hadn’t found anywhere else,” Ferguson said. “The empowerment of it is bigger than just the game. You have a support group of people who are helping you become good at something.”
Ferguson has no doubt played a role in helping the team find its own inner strength.
“She’s a great addition to the team and really keeps the energy level high,” Lynch said. “She’s definitely one of the best people in Bloomington.”