Columbus, OH,
16:00 PM

Secret Lives of OhioHealth: Three Skating Novices Become Roller Derby Queens

By day, Tarah Briggs, PT, DPT, is a physical therapist at OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital. Jodi Whittenberger, CST, is a surgical technician at OhioHealth Grant Medical Center. Wendy Bruss, RN, BSN, is a nurse at Riverside Methodist.

Outside of work, they're warrior women on wheels.

Briggs, Whittenberger and Bruss, otherwise known as "Bigg Rigg," "KloverKill" and "BrussKnuckles," are top-level players with the Ohio Roller Derby. On evenings and weekends, they can be found whizzing around a flat-track roller rink in helmets and padding, fearlessly knocking into opposing players as they try to complete laps.

Roller derby has taken them all over the country and beyond, including to tournaments in Wisconsin, Nebraska, Florida, Texas and Canada. They also play regular home games in Columbus and attend practices at least twice a week.

"You dream about derby, you talk about derby, people around you at work get annoyed about how much you talk about derby, and then you go to derby and you travel to derby," said Whittenberger, who joined the league's professional-level team in 2012. "You're just engulfed."

Neither Whittenberger nor Briggs had much experience in roller-skating or contact sports when they tried roller derby, separately, at introductory clinics several years ago. Briggs grew up playing backyard basketball, and had only roller-skated at birthday parties in elementary school. Whittenberger occasionally roller-bladed around her neighborhood as a child. Bruss knew how to roller skate from her childhood, but didn't play any other contact sport.

They attended the clinics at the suggestion of friends, thinking it would be an amusing way to spend an evening.

"I thought it was going to be a one-night, girls-hanging-out, oh-this-is-cute sort of thing," said Whittenberger. "I didn't think it was going to be such a huge part of my life. I love it now. I'm totally hooked."

They had to work their way up from recreational players to the professional team over several months. Briggs said it took lots of practice and determination to make it into the league.

"At first it was really hard," said Briggs, who's been doing roller derby since 2009. "You get sore in areas you never knew existed. But people are super encouraging and even when you feel like you're doing a terrible job, people are always helping to build you up."

"It is a team sport, and everyone pushes themselves to their limits for the love of the sport and their teammates," said Bruss, who's been doing roller derby since 2014.

The journey has been worth it. The women said roller derby has given them an athletic outlet, strong friendships, great memories and life lessons that they have carried into their personal and work relationships, as well.

Roller derby has taught Biggs to pick herself up when times get tough. "The first year that I played, the only compliment I ever got was hey, good job getting off the floor," she said. "I think about that a lot, even outside of roller derby. You've got to get back up."

This story was originally published in an internal OhioHealth associate publication.