If you're looking for a sporting event that combines high athleticism with the stage presence of a rock band, get to a roller derby match. And don't let the fishnets and flamboyant makeup fool you — the players put in hours of hardcore work — skating, scrimmaging, honing moves and strategies. Our own local Shoreline Roller Derby, based at Galaxy Roller Rink in Groton, is more than a league — it is a sisterhood fiercely committed to worthy causes. At Christmas, the players collected care packages for service personnel stationed at Camp Pratt in Afghanistan. Last month they staged a sell-out bout and raised $5,000 for the families of Sandy Hook. On Sunday, they took part in the Penguin Plunge at New London's Ocean Beach to raise money for Special Olympics.
Roller derby may look aggressive, but contact between players is carefully conscripted and monitored. If you've never seen a roller derby match in person, here are a few of the (many, many) rules: The skaters can't use their hands, elbows, head or feet to block another skater in play; and contact from behind, above the shoulders, or below mid-thigh is prohibited.
Basically, the game is this: Two teams (five players each) roller skate in the same direction around a track. (Some leagues use banked tracks; Shoreline is a flat-surface derby.) The "jammers" — identified by two stars on their helmets — score points by lapping members of the other team. The other eight players (blockers) try to help their own jammer and block the opposing one. Essentially, everyone is playing both offense and defense at the same time. The players wear protective helmets, knee and elbow pads and wrist and mouth guards.
Each player adopts a skater name or alter ego. The names are usually brash, bold and fun. Some are spinoffs of movie titles or puns drawn from celebrity and pop culture. ("A Fist Called Wanda" and "Captain Maims T. Kirk" are two examples.) Some are homages to family or personal heroes.
Grace wanted to get the lowdown on this unconventional but popular sport, where players can and do get hurt. Despite the potential dangers, derby attracts everyone from stay-at-home moms to social workers to military veterans. We asked some Shoreline team members to talk about their experiences. The players are identified by both their skating and real names.
Grace: So what attracted you to this sport? How did you get involved?
G.I. Jos (Joscelyn Mullaney): I read a small article in The Day about skaters wanted for a new league and thought "I think this was created for me!"
D'Amanda Quadshot 20oz. (Christine Barker): My friends had just started attending as the group formed. They quickly recruited me! I was definitely the derby type, although I hadn't been on skates on about 25 years. I rented some at open skate and held onto the yellow bars at the rink. I couldn't stop. Literally, I couldn't stop. That week, I spent about $400 on skates and full gear. (A new skater could get started for about $225 and upgrade as she needed). I needed something else in my life, something for me.
Stoli Stacy (Stacey Jarrell Espejo): I needed a good workout and something to join, but had no idea how in love I would fall with derby and my derby sisters. I found that the team welcomed all shapes, sizes, and athletic ability which made it so much more welcoming as well.
Mrs. Brooklyn (Sierra Davis): I was attracted to roller derby after watching the movie "Whip It." Ellen Page has such a dry sense of humor like myself and seeing Eve in the movie was the sealing point for me, that there was a sport where your personality and strengths get a chance to shine.
Brickhouse Brawler (Tahja Rowe): One of my good friends started to play I went to see and support her at her first bout. I fell in love with the sport right then and there. I wanted to be as strong as the females on the track and more important I wanted to be a part of the team.
How did you develop your skater name?
Jonestown Massacre (Charlotte Gumpel-Jones, Shoreline Derby Vice President): It took me some time to figure out who I would be as a skater. I tried so hard to find a name that suited me, and nothing felt good. The more I skated, the more I realized I wanted to be an intimidating. ... I was apprehensive to share my name outside of derby because I was nervous about people's reactions to it. But anything goes in the derby world, that's the beauty of it. After skating for 2 years with Shoreline, I've embraced and grown into my name. I am not known as Charlotte anymore. I'm Jonestown.
G.I. Jos (Joscelyn Mullaney): I asked all my friends and family for suggestions and being a special forces veteran, G.I. Jos seemed to fit best.
Tony Montana (Toni Vasquez): Tony Montana (the main character of the 1983 film "Scarface") is pretty badass, doing his own thing. ... I had some other names in the works but they were either already taken or weren't me. Plus I'm not huge into putting on a whole other persona, being Toni is a handful itself!
D'Amanda Quadshot 20oz. (Christine Barker): D'Amanda Quadshot 20oz. means demand a quadshot — my Starbucks drink is a venti (20 ounces) americano which has 4 shots of espresso and hot water. I drink my coffee pure, strong and black, perfect.
Kristi Slamahoochi (Gina Furtado): I really wanted my name to represent the parts of myself that I don't necessarily show off on a daily basis. I wanted something strong and feminine. I went through a few different possibilities at first including the influence of To Wong Foo, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Gloria Steinem. I eventually came upon Kristi Slamahoochi inspired by Kristi Yamaguchi — strong and graceful.
Mrs. Brooklyn (Sierra Davis): My skater name is a homage to my husband. He is a diehard Yankee fan for life and he is from Brooklyn. Cheering for anything other than an NY team is out of the question in our house. "Mrs. Brooklyn" to us meant there was another person beside me to back me up, which is the Brooklyn way. Plus my hitting style seems to make me memorable to most people. I hit to defend or protect my jammer at all cost.
What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of roller derby?
Allie Kspaz (Becky Westcott, Shoreline referee): As a ref the most challenging aspect is skating and not watching where you are going. You are always skating with your eyes on the pack.
Kristi Slamahoochi (Gina Furtado): The most challenging aspect of roller derby is getting over the fear of losing control. It's scary to get hit by a blocker when sprinting and fly into a ref or the crowd. On the flip side, the most rewarding part of derby is realizing that I can skate past a really tough blocker without getting pummeled.
D'Amanda Quadshot 20oz. (Christine Barker): The more time you spend on skates, the better you get. I was never into sports. I hated sweating. ... Pushing myself at every practice is a challenge. I have five children; ages 16, 14, 10, 8 and 4. The last two have special needs. My day is full and I'm exhausted at the end...
It's hard, I've whimpered and cried, moaned, grunted and pushed my body each and every practice. Twice a week, before derby, I take a hot shower, 3 advil, my vega sports drink, get dressed in my sports bra and booty shorts. I say goodbye to the family and I'm off! I play my loud music and drive my minivan to the rink. When I walk onto the track, I leave everything behind. I am Quadshot. I'm there to be an athlete with my sisters. It's rewarding to me to know how strong I've become.
Jonestown Massacre (Charlotte Gumpel-Jones): It's incredibly physical as well as mental. For the 5 hours a week that we practice, we are on skates working on endurance, hits, balance, transitions, plyometrics. ... A derby player knows the rules (which there are TONS of) and how to use them to their advantage. ... And when they're getting knocked down again and again, their brain is telling them to get up and stick with it. You have to be a little crazy to play this sport.
Mrs. Brooklyn (Sierra Davis): Some of the most challenging aspects of roller derby can be the schedule when you have children and work. It's a balancing act during bouting season to make practice, bouts, work, and children's activities fit into a week. The sport is addicting to the point that we do find ways to make it work...
My most rewarding aspect of the sport is perfecting a move or play and putting it into play for a bout. It takes so much work to get all players aware and reacting during game play to make a move work. But when we do that is the best comraderie you can have.
How do you get ready for a bout?
G.I. Jos (Joscelyn Mullaney): Lots of hydration, stretching and energy bars peppered with nervous outburst of singing.
Tony Montana (Toni Vasquez): I like to run or do some yoga the morning of a bout and eat a nice big breakfast. I usually wake up with my stomach in knots from excitement and nervousness that I just need to get it out. Hydration is always key especially in the summer months so I get as much fluid in me as possible. I'm also a nervous pee-er so I'm always running to the bathroom during warm-ups.
Allie Kspaz (Becky Westcott): Before a bout I have a breakfast at the Shack in Flanders, and no drinking the night before, save the drinking for the after-parties. Must have enough rest to be focused and on my game.
Describe your proudest moment so far.
Mrs. Brooklyn (Sierra Davis): My proudest moment thus far has been winning Most Valuable Player for a home bout with my kids, mom and friends present right after my stepfather passed away. It was a pick-me-up for us that began the journey back to better times.
Kristi Slamahoochi (Gina Furtado): My proudest moment in derby so far was finally passing my 25 in 5 (25 laps in 5 minutes). It took me 7 tries! All the ladies in my "fresh meat" class surrounded me with a group hug. It was a pretty great moment.
D'Amanda Quadshot 20oz. (Christine Barker): When I'm in the pack, in a jam, it tends to be a blur, so honestly, the proudest for myself as an individual skater are just that I have come so far in my skills. The proudest moments of derby are looking in the faces of my sisters and seeing how they keep getting better, I can see the moments where something clicks and they get their "derby on"! I could say I am honored to be part of this league, we have something special here.
Stoli Stacy (Stacey Jarrell Espejo): For me, it's skill sets. I've been skating now for over a year and can admit that I am not a great skater but I'm ok with being ok, since I came from not being able to even skate at all. But the skills aren't just physical, its mental too. You need to have the skills to skate and the mental capability to multitask and apply those skills in the right type of strategy/situation. The most rewarding part is when you get that one skill down you tried for months...
Jonestown Massacre #912 (Charlotte Gumpel-Jones): Our league's first bout a little over a year ago. We traveled to Long Island to play Strong Island Derby Revolution (also their first bout) at a sold-out venue. It was an extremely close bout that we won by only a couple of points. It's a surreal feeling, having tons of people cheering, your picture being taken, and fans asking for your autograph.
Tony Montana (Toni Vasquez): ... Derby is such an amazing sport! It literally takes you, yourself, mentally, physically, emotionally to be all that you want to be. And I try to give it my all and surprise myself all the time. When you really put your heart in to something and give it your all, it's amazing what you'll achieve. ... Last year SLRD was invited to participate in the first ever All 8 on the Floor Tournament hosted by Worcester Roller Derby. We were total underdogs. Many of the leagues were well-established, being together for 5+ years, and here we were in the midst of just our 1st complete season. We had just come out of playing 2 weeks of bouts and this was going to be 3 days of nonstop derby! We all fought so hard and on our last day we ended up playing 3 bouts.That's insane! We had skaters actually coming up to us and saying "We hope to play you in the last match" and "Keep up the hard work." It was such a cool moment for other skaters to acknowledge how hard we were playing. We ended up taking home a hard-earned, exhausted, achy 4th place.
What do you wish more people understood about the sport?
G.I. Jos (Joscelyn Mullaney): Most of us are working mothers (some of us are single mothers) that pay to do this. Monthly dues and gear alone are not cheap nevermind all the fishnets, sports bras and knee socks we go through. We practice 2-3 times per week for 2-3 hours at a time (not including away bouts).
Allie Kspaz (Becky Westcott): [It] is not the roller derby of the 70's that everyone remembers watching on television. This is a full contact sport but there are rules to keep the skaters safe. Elbows, pushing, tripping, grabbing an opponent will get a skater sent to the penalty box. This is flat track derby so there are no rails to throw anyone over or into. ... However there is a crash zone where spectators can expect to be knocked out of their seats. There is a lot of exciting contact in the sport. With a flat track you can skate anywhere. Gymnasiums, hockey rinks (indoor and outdoor), skating rinks like Galaxy Rink in Groton or even parking lots. Where we skate determines what wheels we put on our skates.
Mrs. Brooklyn (Sierra Davis): If I could pinpoint one thing, is that there is a place in the sport for anyone. We have so many places for people to participate and we welcome family involvement so everyone can hang out together during our busy bouting season.
Does derby influence your life outside the rink?
Stoli Stacy (Stacey Jarrell Espejo): Always. I eat, sleep and think derby all the time. I play hipchecks with my kids and take them roller skating. I wear my derby stuff every chance I get and talk, read, or research anything about derby when I can. ... It's important for me too because my kids get to see their mother be a part of a sports team and watch me play and learn about dedication, hard, hard work, exercise and about how to be a team player when you win or lose.
Allie Kspaz (Becky Westcott): Last summer I was Care & Share's chairperson for the annual diamond dig at East Lyme days in Niantic, and with the help of Brittany's Fears we were able to get SLRD to help out with Care & Share's event. I think that is one thing that I really love about Roller Derby is that they are very community involved. Skaters must have four hours per month volunteer time with the league. While some of this is obtained by helping with coaching, training, working and setting up the bouts, some of it is obtained through community service hours. SLRD also went out and sold 50/50 raffle tickets last year to help Babe's heart run. Roller derby also for me makes me a stronger role model for my daughter.
Any advice you would give to someone thinking about joining?
Brickhouse Brawler (Tahja Rowe): ...Go for it, you never know you might be perfect for this sport and not even know it. There is a place for everyone so give it a try and you might just fall in love.
Allie Kspaz (Becky Westcott): Just do it. There are skaters that have never put on skates before as well as skaters that have not skated since they were kids and are skating like pros now. Getting stable isn't going to happen over night so just practice. Don't think that you can't do it because you are too old. You are never too old for roller derby. I was afraid of getting hurt, and have, but I am not afraid and I am not as fragile as the people around me think I am. Worrying about the aches and pains of the future do nothing but hold you back from greatness.
What do you do during normal business hours?
G.I. Jos (Joscelyn Mullaney): I am a chef by trade.
Tony Montana (Toni Vasquez): During the regular weekday hours, I work as an Employment Specialist with Sound Community Services. I assist individuals with severe and persistent mental illness (along with a potential criminal background, drug abuse history, etc) obtain and maintain employment within the community. I do a lot of networking and job development with business owners and other service providers.
D'Amanda Quadshot 20oz. (Christine Barker): I'll be 40 this year! I've been married 17 years. I say I'm a stay at home mom, but I'm not usually home. I homeschool my four girls, the oldest boy is a sophomore in high school. We were a foster family for 5 years and of the 15 babies we had, we adopted our first and last placement. One of our children has fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. We are learning more about her disbility and how to advocate and to obtain services for her needs. In my recent former life, I am a homebirther, cloth diaperer, breastfeeding, attachment parenting, crunchy earthy hippy mama. I am an advocate for home-centered end of life caregiving, respectful dying amongst the family without the use of invasive procedures (home funerals also known as green funerals). I am working toward creating my own career in the caregiving field where I will help mothers when they have had an unexpected life altering event that prevents them from being mobile and carrying on with their daily lives.
Stoli Stacy (Stacey Jarrell Espejo): I'm 30 years old and I'm a stay-at-home mom of two. I have an almost-seven-year old and a four-year old. I'm a U.S. Navy veteran and a Navy wife to a wonderful husband of seven years. When I do work, I'm a desktop support specialist/technician for the DOD. I'm the vice president of the commands family readiness group as well. I'm also a passion party consultant and party planner as well.
Aspiring skaters, referees and volunteers can attend a Shoreline Roller Derby practice at 7 p.m. on March 3 at Galaxy Roller Rink, 210 Bridge St., Groton to observe practice, ask questions and fill out paperwork.
On March 5, new recruits will demonstrate skating ability, and learn basic skills at the rink from 8-10:30 p.m.
For a full schedule of events and more information, visit shorelinerollerderby.com or find the gang on Facebook.