As a stay-at-home mother of three, Beaufort resident Natalie Hunt was constantly second-guessing herself and her choices. Was she doing the right thing for her children? Was she giving them enough attention? Should she go back to work? Did she need to pick up more milk on the way home?
She had struggled with body image issues her whole life, measuring herself against the magazine-cover standard of female beauty, women she knew she'd never look like.
"I so often hated myself and what I looked like," Hunt said.
But everything changed when, through a random encounter, she was invited to a roller derby bout in Okinawa, Japan, where her husband was stationed in the Marine Corps.
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Hunt went by herself and had no idea what she was looking at. She saw women on skates slamming into each other, heard whistles were going off and points inexplicably being scored. People were cheering, others screaming. She was lost because she didn't know the rules.
But as she watched the action unfold and saw women fully engaged in the contact sport, Hunt thought to herself, "This is amazing."
"These were strong and confident women," she said. "You could look at their faces, and they just exuded self-confidence."
It was evident that someone lacking confidence wouldn't be able to survive in a roller derby rink. The women, knowing they're eventually going to get hit with the full force of their opponent, skated with such purpose, with such focus and determination -- as if nothing else in the world mattered.
"And I wanted that for myself."
It's been more than three years since Hunt joined the Devil Dog Derby Dames, a roller derby league in Okinawa made up mostly of military wives and active-duty Marine Corps members.
When Hunt and her family moved to Beaufort in June 2012, she wanted to start a roller derby league in Beaufort County, with the closest league being in Savannah.
So earlier this year, Hunt founded the Beaufort Bruisers.
On Thursday nights, half a dozen women meet at the skate park in Port Royal to practice. Some are derby veterans, having played in other leagues and attended training sessions. Others are new to the sport.
At a recent practice, newcomer Bri Allmond shakily skated, shuffling one foot in front of the other.
"I'm loving your attitude," Hunt said to Allmond as she worked to find her center of gravity.
"The people that I train, I don't ever let them talk bad about themselves," Hunt said. "If they say they suck, I say, 'No, you don't suck, you're learning.' Because whatever comes out of your mouth, you're going to believe."
'YOU'RE GOING TO GO FAST'
What is known today as roller derby originated in America in the 1930s and saw a revival in the early 2000s as an all-female amateur sport.
"It's a ladies sport, but it's not a lady-like sport," said Ky Overfelt, a member of the Beaufort Bruisers.
Overfelt's mother worried for her daughter's safety when she was told she was going to do roller derby.
"You're going to get killed," Overfelt's mother told her.
Overfelt had tried other sports before, such as soccer and gymnastics. But she never excelled at any of them and didn't necessarily feel like she fit in.
She is average height and thin, weighing 100 pounds with every piece of derby gear on.
"You're going to be a jammer," Hunt said to Overfelt. "That's my plan for you. You're going to get small and you're going to go fast."
Overfelt may look fragile, but she knows she has a place in roller derby.
"In derby, you can find use for everybody," Overfelt said. "People don't expect you to be great. They expect you to not be scared and not give up."
Beaufort resident Amanda Betz has been skating since August, but has worked since May to drum up local support for the Beaufort Bruisers.
"Having a town that is full of strong women means a future of stronger, more confident girls," Betz said. "There is no one type of derby girl."
The Beaufort Bruisers are nearly halfway to filling the 14-women roster necessary for a bout. Hunt is optimistic that more women will come out, and excited about the possibility of starting an entire league in Beaufort.
"It's about building community to me, a strong female community," Hunt said. "Roller derby changed my life in such a positive way, I want to bring that to other women. I want to show them -- or let them find out for themselves -- how strong they are."
Follow Laura Oberle at twitter.com/IPBG_Laura.