In Derby Bouts and Brush Strokes, Artist Strikes a Beautiful Balance

Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman March 15, 2013 01:00


Diana Boyd Photo by Phil Shermeister

Diana Boyd
Photo by Phil Shermeister

Is falling hard again and again for years any way to bring balance to your life?

For Diana Boyd, whose seemingly contradictory passions are the fine art of oil painting and the rough-and-tumble sport of roller derby, the answer is yes.

On Saturday nights the 55-year-old Sonora woman pulls on tight shorts and fishnet stockings, straps on a helmet and pads and hits the High Country Sports Arena as Sheeda Bomb, her derby alter ego.  Left temporarily behind are her beautiful, colorful canvases of livestock and ranch life in the Mother Lode.

As Sheeda, Boyd is a fiercely competitive blocker for Tuolumne County’s High Country Hellcats. Her job is to put her well-muscled, 5-foot-3-inch body in harm’s way. Doing so while skating at top speed amid the barely controlled chaos of a derby bout has expected consequences: getting knocked onto the sports arena’s track in Standard and scrambling back up on her skates to do it all again.

Or catching the opposing team’s jammer before she laps the pack and earns points – then knocking her down.  “I’m an old lady who makes other people fall,” Boyd laughs.

In her five-year roller derby career, Boyd says she’s fallen “thousands of times” in practice and in bouts with few apparent ill effects.

“A few bruises, a few scrapes, but not one broken bone,” she says.  “Sometimes I knock a rib out of place, but my chiropractor puts it right back.”

Solidly in the AARP demographic, Diana/Sheeda is the Satchel Paige of her sport, which enjoyed its heyday as a 1950s, all-female, scripted, drama- and faux violence-laden answer to pro wrestling. Although sexy outfits and bad-girl names remain – Sheeda’s teammates include Amber Waves of Pain, Mixon Up Trouble, Charmin Slammer and Ammo – Roller Derby is enjoying a renaissance as a legitimate sport, with thousands of teams competing in hundreds of leagues nationwide.

Still, what the heck is Diana Boyd doing skating, blocking and shoving with women half her age? None of the doctors, physical therapists, exercise class leaders or tai chi gurus who appear in this issue’s other stories prescribe roller derby as the key to a long, safe and healthy life.  It’s not for the money: Team income only covers expenses.

“For me, it works,” says Boyd. “I’ve roller skated since I was four. I’ve done quad skating, in-line skating and roller hockey. It gets rid of my stress, it keeps me in shape – I love it.”

So when Coach Maria Hines began organizing a derby team in 2008, Boyd jumped at the chance. Or, more accurately, fell for it.

“Falling is a big part of the sport,” confirms Boyd. “When we’re not falling in bouts, we’re practicing falling. You learn to fall forward, fall on your wrist pads and kneepads and, if you can, roll up tight in a ball and then get up as soon as you can.”

The goal, she says, is always to “fall small” so as not to trip up other skaters.

But what about of her teammates, most of whom are between 21 and 35? Do they cut Boyd any slack?

“Most start by treating me like their mom or grandmother in practice,” she grins. “They’re a little reluctant to come after me. But once I knock them down, all bets are off.”

Still, that High Country Sports Arena rink is concrete, covered only with a thin layer of plastic tiles. Don’t those falls hurt? Especially at age 55?

“You build muscle mass,” answers Boyd, who also teaches youngsters to skate and fall as coach of the 8- to 17-year-old Junior Hellcats. “You can’t see it, but it’s kind of like a layer of callus where you go down. The falls aren’t as painful as you might think.”

When an overly eager horse a few months ago pushed her onto boulders on the Sonora-area ranch she and her husband share, Boyd got up, realized she was OK, and thanked her sport for surviving the tumble unscathed.  “I’m so glad I do derby,” she said to herself while leading that horse back to the barn.

Roller derby has also helped Boyd attain that sought-after sense of mental, physical and philosophical balance. But how does she square the deft brush strokes that yield her beautiful, coveted oil paintings with the far less subtle moves that can deck a rival in the heat of a roller derby bout?

There is a connection.

“I attack my paintings with a little more enthusiasm and drive than people might imagine,” says Boyd. “A lot of people see art as a languid, dreamy, wispy thing, but it’s not that way for me. Some of the high energy I bring to roller derby, I bring to my painting.”

Maybe that’s why Boyd’s roller derby number is 24/7. Although she’s not knocking people down every hour of the day, her passion for life – be it art or sport – is always there.

“I guess painting and skating are my yin and yang,” she concludes. “They are my balance.”

That balance will soon shift:  Although she may stay on skates to referee derby bouts, Boyd will retire from competition after the 2013 season and leave what she calls “the slash and bash” to others. Instead she’ll spend more time on the ranch, more time painting, and more time teaching art classes at Galleria Copper in Copperopolis.

“I could keep going back year after year, but I can hear my teammates now: Oh God, she’s here again at 100 years old,” Sheeda laughs. “It’s time to make a graceful exit.”

Which will no doubt be a relief those who skate against her – because who wants to knocked to the track by a 100-year-old woman who paints portraits of chickens in her spare time?

Sheeda and her High Country Hellcat colleagues will host home bouts at the High County Sports Arena (18960 Waylon Way, off Camage Avenue in Standard, 588-0776) on April 27, June 8-9, June 29, Sept. 28 and Nov. 16. For a full schedule and tickets, visit the team’s website,

Tickets ($10 in advance, $15 at the door, $5 for kids 5-12) may also be purchased at Jamestown Harley-Davidson, The Outpost in Mono Vista or Togo’s in The Junction shopping center in East Sonora.

© 2013 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman March 15, 2013 01:00
Write a comment

No Comments

No Comments Yet

Let me tell you a sad story. There are no comments yet, but yours can be the first!

Write a comment
View comments

Write a comment

Your e-mail address will not be published.
Required fields are marked*