By Jim Almy
Ophelia Melons (#88) began her roller derby career in 2008 not as a player, but as a referee – for banked track – in Los Angeles. Later, she played for the Emerald City Roller Girls in Eugene, OR before moving to Seattle a couple of years ago.
“I came for love,” she said, “and to play with the best there is.”
Six years after putting on skates and grabbing a ref’s whistle, she is one the best, being selected as the Most Valuable Player in last Saturday’s bout for her current team, Derby Liberation Front (DLF) of the Rat City Rollergirls.
Throttle Rockets, DLF’s opponent that night, voted her as the MVP. “It was my birthday,” said Melons, “so maybe they were just being nice.” Rockets players who woke up Sunday morning hurting in many places from the beating Melons and her teammates put on them would probably disagree, offering more painful reasons for their vote.
Melons has always been a blocker. She started 22 of the 44 jams in last Saturday’s match. She thinks the best blockers are also great jammers and vice versa, but her strength is pushing other bodies out of the way on offense, holding them back on defense. “I’ve always been a scrappy kid,” she added.
Growing up in LA and watching roller derby in its earlier versions she became an avid fan. Her parents soon began calling her their “Roller Derby Diva” and her mom is still her biggest fan. But soccer was her first sport. She played competitively for 15 years and was selected as the number one goalkeeper at the California community college level, but she eventually stopped playing because of knee injuries.
A knee injury also caught up with her last season when she had a complete ACL tear in the second half of the March bout against Grave Danger. A year spent in recovery was also a year in which she says she was able to improve her game.
“As a blocker, especially with all the time off from my injury, I really focused on my muscle memory, on being the floor leader. I’m good enough at skating backwards that it allows me to have a fuller vision of things happening around me. I’m constantly communicating with my teammates.”
She calls her first game back, the season opening match against Grave Danger in January, an emotionally intense time for her. “There’s no better feeling than coming back and winning,” she said. Going into that bout, DLF were slight underdogs, but upset Danger, the three-year reigning league champions.
“I like to say that I’m no longer injured, it just kind of hurts,” she said. “I’m really more injured in the sense of getting my mental game back under control. I maybe play a little more reserved now, a little more aware of my body. I think I get less penalties now as a result of that.”
Her given name is Elizabeth Baumwirt. She lives in the Ballard area, does customer service work and is also employed at a popular bar, Conor Byrne Pub, where she keeps things in order at the door. She wears a Rat City t-shirt or sweatshirt most of the time she is on duty, convincing customers to attend bouts and educating them about the sport.
For the March 15 match against Sockit Wenches at KeyArena she said that DLF has a pretty good feeling about playing the Wenches. “We’re kindred spirits. It will be a lighthearted game, but a game with heavy contact. They like to hit as much as we do.”
Melons said that she has never been on a championship team but hoped that DLF, winners of both their bouts this season and the only undefeated team remaining in the league, could keep their penalties under control. “We will be unstoppable if we can do that,” she said.
And those banked track LA Derby Dolls that gave her her first experience with derby? The Rat City Rollergirls sent an all-star team down there in 2012 and beat the Dolls on their own track. Melons is correct, you have to come to Seattle if you want to play with the best.
For tickets to see Ophelia Melons at the March 15th bout at KeyArena, go HERE