Libby "PBR" Claeys, Dani "Dubbs" Bock, Melissa "Sum Mo Payne" Dittberner and Amelia "Skinnerella" Saint, members of Sioux City, Iowa's oldest and most highly-regarded women's flat track roller derby team, are in their third year of roller skating across midwestern states to raise money and awareness in the fight against MS.
Personal experiences have spurred involvement to form Sk8 the State and skate across South Dakota, Nebraska, and, most recently, Iowa.
"My aunt has had MS for 40-plus years," said Claeys, a four-year derby veteran from Sioux City. "I have watched first-hand how debilitating it is, but she has been a true inspiration."
MS attacks the central nervous system, causing loss of muscle control, loss of sensation and irreversible nerve damage. It does not discriminate, striking healthy, active people of all races, ages and backgrounds.
In their treks across South Dakota, Nebraska and, most recently, Iowa, the skaters have met numerous individuals who have been touched by MS.
"They always thank us, but really, they are the unsung heroes," Claeys said. "Our pain is temporary; our blisters and road rash will heal."
A touching show of support at the end of the South Dakota trek has kept them going the past two years.
"A handful came at the end and brought pictures of when their MS was at its worst, and when they were unable to get out of bed," said Bock, a three-year derby veteran from Le Mars. "It was a really humbling experience; we cried a lot."
Dittberner, a four-year derby veteran from Gayville, S.D., uses that memory to overcome mental and physical obstacles during the long, hot and sometimes painful skate.
"They keep me going when the road really sucks," she said.
While the Dames are busy as students, mothers and full-time job holders, they train twice a week with their team and, during the nine-month derby season, have bouts one to two times a month, coach and host boot camps.
Roller derby is a women's contact sport played by two five-player teams, who skate around a circular track.
Each team's jammer scores points for each opposing player she passes while four blockers on each time simultaneously defend and attack. Injuries are common, including bruises, cuts, scrapes, broken bones and concussions.
"There's nothing that prepares you for it (skating across states), though, because each state is different," Claeys explained.
In the first two years of the fundraiser, Sk8 the State covered 481 miles and raised $6,500 for the National MS Foundation. This year, they plan to cover 231 miles in Iowa in only five days and raise $5,000.
During their interview with the Pilot-Tribune, the Dames were four days into their Iowa trek, skating close to 160 miles.
While they faced massive hills during their start in Clarinda, they rolled into Storm Lake Thursday evening and plan to complete their route in Okoboji on Saturday.
Claeys, Bock and Dittberner try to stick to two-lane roads and bike trails, whenever possible. Saint drives a support vehicle, warning motorists with signs and flashing lights.
"Our concern is not just for them but for the people passing safely," said Saint, a two-year derby veteran from Sioux City.
The trio averages speeds of 15 miles per hour, traveling approximately seven miles per hour uphill and topping 25 miles per hour downhill. How far they travel in a day is heavily determined by weather and equipment, as well as the skaters' energy levels.
On Friday, they aimed to travel 60 miles, mostly on bike trails in the small town of Rolfe, located in Pocahontas County.
People in Iowa have been accommodating, the Dames said. In past years, skaters had trash hurled at them from passing vehicles or were the target of crass hand gestures.
No serious injuries have occurred so far, but Dittberner did take a slight spill on the road, doing a "monkey roll" with trucks close behind.
Despite a few mishaps and several rude drivers in the past, overall, the group has received support through e-mail, texts, phone calls, cold Popsicles and a place to stay the night along the route.
Sk8 the State even found a little mascot along the way---a gray kitten named Iowa, once abandoned in Breda, now sports its very own tiny turquoise Sk8 the State shirt and rides along in the support vehicle.
Support has cropped up in other ways, too. Vanilla Skates, Atom Wheels and Bones Bearings have donated equipment, and Famous Dave's of Sioux City is covering the cost of gas for the support vehicle.
Upon the route's completion in Okoboji today, the Ritz will host a skate-in party, complete with poker run, live music, raffle and prizes.
Next year, the group hopes to skate across Kansas, and eventually, skate across the nation.
To donate to Sk8 the State, visit sk8thestate.blogspot.com or search for Sk8 the State on Facebook. There is no time limit for donations, and 100 percent of proceeds will be donated to the National MS Foundation.