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JBLM Bettie Brigade Spotlight: Sgt. Severe

JBLM roller derby member lives the sport

Sgt. Severe, #253, eyes her next move during a bout at the Bettie Bunker in Lacey. Photo credit: Jesemynn Cacka-Main

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For military spouse and Lakewood resident Abigail Rael (aka "Sgt. Severe"), it's about roller derby love in every sense of the word.

Rael skates for the spirited Joint Base Lewis-McChord Bettie Brigade, an all-female, player-run, flat-track roller derby league and nonprofit organization, which is comprised of women directly from the military community. Not only does Rael adore the sport, her fellow Betties and the JBLM Bratz (the team's junior derby team) and the fans, she also has a little thing for a Bettie's coach.

Actually, said coach just happens to be Rael's real-life husband, Staff Sgt. Gerald Rael (aka "Ill Will").

The couple got started in derby in 2010.

"My husband forwarded me an email from the FRG talking about roller derby. He encouraged me to do it," Rael said. "He said he would buy my skates if I did it."

Realizing she hadn't been on skates since the roller-blading heyday of the 1990s, Rael had some trepidation and didn't start on, let's just say, the "best skate."

"It was a mess!" Rael laughed. "I was terrible. I couldn't stand up. I was so sore the next day because I had fallen down so many times."

Rael wasn't worried, though. Her husband, a pretty formidable skater himself, had her back. They practiced together at the roller rink on base. Sgt. Rael gave his spouse some tips, and within a couple of months she became pretty comfortable on skates - so much so that derby called to both of them.

The Bettie Brigade was the perfect fit. These days, instead of practicing at JBLM, the duo practices at the Bettie Brigade's facility (affectionately known as the "Bettie Bunker") in Lacey.

Another perfect fit was Rael's new derby moniker, "Sgt. Severe." In fact, deciding on the name was especially easy.

"'Severe' is my maiden name," Rael said.

The sergeant part was a playful tribute to her own family's military history. "All of the women in my immediate family, except for me, are military. Both were specialists, so I decided to outrank them with derby."

So while derby seemed to be a simple decision all around, is it easy to have your spouse serve as a coach? For Rael, there's no free pass.

"I get no preferential treatment; in fact, he's extra tough on me. And, well, we uh, ‘trade opinions' back and forth," Rael grinned.

When she isn't practicing, competing or managing merchandise for the Betties, Rael is busy managing a clothing store in Seattle and enjoying spending time with family who relocated from the East Coast. In fact, Rael's parents bought the house right next door to hers. This is the second time Rael's husband has been stationed at JBLM, but she still enjoys exploring her adopted home. However, when asked what she liked best about living here, the conversation turned right back to roller derby.

"There is so much to do here, and it's so rich culturally," she said. "It's also a great, great place for derby. In fact, some of the top teams in the country are here."

Rael sees a bright future for the sport, especially among the younger set.

"I just love the JBLM Bratz," she said. "Just love them. I wish there was junior derby when I was a kid. Think about five to ten years from now, when these kids grow up; think about just how great derby is going to be then."

Clearly, Rael's love for roller derby isn't going away anytime soon. In fact, the athlete sees it as a long-time love affair.

"I'm going to skate as long as I can," she smiled. "In fact, I'm going to keep skating until the wheels fall off."

Join the Bettie Brigade for its upcoming fundraising car wash June 14 at 11 a.m. at Cheers Bar and Grill in Lakewood. For more information about this event, upcoming bouts and to learn more, visit

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