They are real. They are strong. They are athletic.

Since the Cowboy Capital Rollergirls rolled into Erath County as the premiere roller derby league late last year, the organization has grown from 11 to 25 paying members.

Currently undefeated - 2:0 - in their first season on the flat track, six of the league's founding members spoke with the Empire-Tribune during "fresh meat" practice at Jaycee Optimist Park where the newest recruits and a few die-hard derby girls were undergoing a strenuous workout Thursday.

The ladies revealed the personas that live beneath the helmets and protective padding, and shared how their affiliation with CCR has changed their lives.

For the league's starting lineup, the road to flat track stardom was not one they expected to follow. But they all came together after a couple of women - Ashley Gill and Kaylee Pemberton - decided they were bored with life.

They quickly mobilized a media campaign and called on other women to join their wheeled ranks - and the rest is history in the making.

Psycho Filly

For Pemberton, the formation of the Cowboy Capital Rollergirls coincided with a milestone in her adult life.

"I turned 40 and joined a roller derby team," Pemberton, known as "Psycho Filly," said.

There wasn't much to do growing up in Milfay, Okla., but Pemberton said she developed a love of roller and speed skating.

"But I never thought I would like the aggressive part of roller derby. I am by no means the stereotypical derby girl," she added, saying she is the type of woman who always leaves the house with her hair and makeup in place. "But when I put on my pads and skates, that alter ego comes out."

While it might be a little hard for people who know her to connect the dots between her life as an interior decorator to a star-spangled helmet wearing wheeled warrior, Pemberton said it just makes sense.

Raised by a bronc rider and married to Erath native Jay Pemberton, who also spent time rodeoing, Pemberton said she is at home in the Cowboy Capital. She moved to Stephenville in 1989 to pursue an agriculture degree in plant soil science from Tarleton State University.

It is also fitting since she raised one son, Riley Pemberton, 19, who began pursuing an extreme sports career at an early age.

"He just turned pro in motocross," Pemberton said.

Prim Reaper

People who knew Erath County native Jessica Finley, 27, a few short years - or even months - ago are seeing a different person when they look at her now. While Finley credits the metamorphosis from hermit to derby dame "Prim Reaper" to the bonds she formed with her teammates and her new sense of self worth, she also said the change in her personality began three years ago.

"I lost 75 pounds, got a better job and went back to school," she said.

Finley works as an administrative assistant at a local church and expects to obtain her criminal justice degree from Tarleton State University in about a year.

"I would like to be a parole or probation officer or possibly become a cop," Finley said.

Joining CCR and the other lifestyle changes followed a tragedy that struck her family on April 18, 2009. Her big brother, Kristopher "Bubba" Sparks, was killed in an automobile accident at 27.

Finley said prior to the loss, she never stepped out of her comfort zone and admits her lack of self confidence and struggles with social anxiety dominated her life.

"But then all of a sudden, I decided life is too short," she said.

While she was reinventing herself, Finley said the anxiety she felt approaching her first team meeting was almost overwhelming.

"I was really nervous," she said. "I decided to just drive by City Park, where the other girls were meeting so I could see who they were. I had already decided I was not walking up into a group of Barbie dolls."

That fear has been replaced with courage and pride.

"We are doing great things for the community like raising money for Relay For Life, and these really amazing women are now like my sisters. I am part of something, I really belong," Finley said. "They have open arms and hearts and are very accepting. They genuinely love me for who I am."

Finley is even more proud of the impact CCR has had on her daughter, Skylah, 7, and her husband, Brandon.

"I love that Skylah has strong, positive female role models to look up to, and I am so proud that she now knows she can be who she wants and make her own path," she said. "And this is really the first thing I have done and could see Brandon is really proud of what I'm doing. People say he is glowing."

Slammy Sami

Samantha Schouten, 28, admits she has not always taken the best path, but says she is now on track.

Since "Slammy Sami" joined CCR, partying is no longer a priority. After an almost 12-hour workday on her family's Lingleville dairy, Schouten has one thing on her mind.

"Roller derby requires a serious commitment," she said, adding she focuses on eating healthy, physical fitness and perfecting her skating abilities. "I no longer have much of a social life, but it's worth it."

Schouten has also seen herself evolve athletically.

"I'm coming along slowly," Schouten said. "I could barely stand on these skates in October, and I didn't know how to stop."

She also admitted she was initially a bit weary of throwing herself in the middle of a group of women who were willing to fight for control of the track.

"Girls are sometimes hard to click with," Schouten said. "But they are like sisters now. There's no drama and no gossip. We are out here having a good time."

LittleTank Lulu

Edith Luna, 27, has lived in Stephenville since she was five.

In about a week, she will cross the stage at Wisdom Gym to receive her marketing degree in front of her loved ones, including her husband, Cruz, and son, Alex, 2.

While "LittleTank Lulu" was already faced with a tight schedule that included cramming through a full-time course load, raising her son and always making sure dinner was on the table, Luna said she was searching for something more.

"Life had gotten a little boring," she said. "I was really looking for something that was just for me."

And suddenly it all started to fall into place.

"About two weeks after I watched 'Whip It' (a movie about a Texas girl who leaves behind the boredom of small town living when she discovers a roller derby league in Austin), I read an article about Ashley trying to form a local league. I just said to myself, 'Let's do this.'"

Cybil Injustice

It was something like fate that led elementary school counselor, Megan Guidry, 28, to CCR.

"Cybil Injustice" was working in Dallas where she regularly cheered on the Dallas Derby Devils and attending class at Tarleton when she came across a flyer forming a derby league.

"It was like all of a sudden, I heard 'Dream Weaver' playing in the background," she said, and quickly signed on with the team.

From a professional perspective, Guidry said whipping and mashing her way across the track allows her to set aside her job as a counselor, unleash a little aggression and get a little therapy of her own.

"The sport gives us the opportunity to let out our inner egos, let go of expectations and live without giving into conformities," Guidry said.

She's gone from not being able to skate and being told she might not make it in the four-wheeled world to strapping on protective gear and hitting the track with a group of close friends she might have never met.

"I have really found a place on this team," Guidry said. "These women are my soul mates."

Gillotine Grace

Ashley Gill, 28, accomplished her goal of forming a local roller derby league.

But Gillotine Grace said CCR still has some big goals to accomplish. She wants to see CCR get its own venue - even if it's no more than a concrete slab in the middle of field - and gain affiliation with the Women's Flat Track Derby Association.

"Our short-term goals have pretty much been accomplished," Gill said. "We have increased membership and have 25 girls who will all be able to compete soon and also increased community awareness through support of local events and organizations. But the ultimate would be affiliation with WFTDA and a venue of our own - the two pretty much go hand in hand."

Catch CCR in Action

Saturday marks a big day for the hometown team when they host "Cinco De Mayo Mayhem" at Stephenville Roller Rink. The event will kick off at 1 p.m. with outdoor events and the unveiling of the leagues' jerseys and more. The door to the rink will open at 2 p.m. and the bout against the Fighting Unicorns begins at 3 p.m.