Ralphie Valladares; Starred With Roller Derby’s T-Birds
Ralphie Valladares, longtime roller derby legend who skated and coached for the Los Angeles Thunderbirds, has died of cancer, it was announced Saturday.
He was 62. Valladares died Friday at his daughter’s home in Pico Rivera, according to William J. Griffith of Roller Games International.
Valladares, known as “The Guatemalan Flyer,” skated with the famed T-Birds for years and developed a following around the globe because of his association with the team.
Valladares immigrated to the United States from Guatemala with his family when he was 12, according to Roller Games International.
His family settled near Hollywood Park and for many years Valladares’ ambition was to become a jockey.
Considered too big to be a jockey, at 5-feet-2 and 115 pounds, Valladares decided to try roller-skating. He signed his first professional contract at the age of 17.
By the end of his first year, Valladares was a star, riding a boom in roller derby popularity that lasted through the 1950s and ‘60s, but then faded in the ‘70s.
“This tiny Latin skated rings around his heavier and slower opponents,” according to his official biography.
When the T-Birds formed in 1960, Valladares joined the team and quickly became identified as one of its stars, along with his wife, Honey Sanchez.
He once said that working with Raquel Welch in the film “Kansas City Bomber” and playing before 50,000 fans in Chicago’s Comiskey Park were the highlights of his career.
Valladares is survived by his wife; daughter, Gina; three grandchildren; and seven brothers and sisters.