Hand in hand: Athena DeCrime (left) and Varla Vendetta. (Photo by Gil Leora)
In league
Athena DeCrime was there with Varla Vendetta, AB’99, when the Windy City Rollers were born.
Both on the track and off it, Amy Smith, aka Athena DeCrime, is Varla Vendetta's teammate and best friend. In fact she’s more than that—she’s Varla’s derby wife. What’s a derby wife, you ask? We wanted to know the same thing. So as the Jan–Feb Core went to press with a story about Varla—who, away from roller derby, is Jamie Ramsay, AB’99—and her formidable career skating with Chicago’s Windy City Rollers, we called Smith to talk about competition, camaraderie, and flat-track matrimony. You both came into the league together when the Windy City Rollers was just forming. Have you always been on the same team? Yep. And actually, this has never been publicly disclosed before, but she was the very first draft pick, because I was captain of one of the four teams and lucky enough to get the first pick when we did the first-ever draft. And she was my pick. I had the entire pool to choose from, and I knew I wanted her on my team. What was it like just starting out? It was so exciting. And we didn’t know anything, so everything we did was revolutionary. It’s funny, when we were at the Congress Theater that first season, we were getting gigantic crowds. I mean, two or three thousand people. Friends and family, but that wasn’t everybody. It was more of the flashy, campy derby thing, so we got some hipsters. It was brand new, and I think people wanted to come out and see what was going on. And it was a sport back then, but it wasn’t the sport we’re playing now. What was the first national tournament you competed in? Varla and I were on the very first all-star team together, and we went to our very first all-star tournament. And we came in almost last. Because we had no idea what we were doing. This was February 2006, the first Dust Devil tournament, in Tucson. And we go out there thinking—because we have all these successful crowds and we worked very hard—we were really going to show the national derby scene a thing or two. And we got laughed out of there because we were so bad. I mean, we were really bad. So what did you do? We all went back to the hotel and licked our wounds for a while, because it was really embarrassing. We played round robin—so several short games in a row—and we lost every single one of them. But then we came back to the venue and started watching what the other teams were doing. And we started to get it: this is what derby is. So we came back to Chicago with ideas, with a blueprint for skills and strategy. We realized we had to move out of the Congress Theater, because Congress didn’t have a full-size regulation track. So we took a year off, more or less, from having a national team, because we needed to get things right at home first. And once we had that right, we were able to burst back onto the national scene. Were you an athlete before you joined the league? Nope. Never did a thing in my life. But I loved roller derby as a kid. It’s been eight years since the Windy City Rollers formed. And you and Varla are both still skating. Yeah, I can’t believe it. And I think we both have stayed partly because of each other. I think we’re going to end up having to make a retirement pact. So, you’re Varla’s derby wife. Yes. And she’s yours. Yes. What is that? Well, we were married in a mass ceremony at Roller Con 2005 by someone named Deez Nutz. Our marriage certificate says that right on it. In some of the early leagues, the derby wife was set up as the person who always has your back, on and off the track. And since we were cocaptains and went through a very difficult first year together—because there was no template and everyone was fighting for power, fighting to make their own mark on the world—we were very close. It was very clear we would marry each other. We’ve joked, actually, that when I marry my boyfriend, she has to give me away as my derby wife.