Connecticut Roller Derby: Blood Sisters of the Flat Track
Kathryn DeMarco (in green), a “jammer” squeezes through the white team as Jessie Rack puts the hit on her during a “jam” (a round). Members of the Shoreline Roller Derby league battle it our during a Green vs. White scrimmage to raise money for the Sandy Hook School Support Fund.
Peter Casolino/New Haven Register
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Kristin McPherson, aka “Fun-Sized Fury,” gingerly wraps a fresh tattoo to protect it from mayhem. With the Grim Reaper safely swaddled, she slathers Icy Hot on both knees and pops a couple of ibuprofen. An older tat on Kristin’s other arm depicts Kristin in action: crouching forward, listing, resplendent in black retro biker helmet, fishnet stockings, unforgiving “booty shorts” and (almost forgot!) roller skates. Her likeness is navigating a turn on a roller derby flat track. It’s a tossup as to which arm is scarier.
Life is about to imitate art on this bleak Sunday night, in the depths of January, at the Galaxy Roller Rink in Groton, which looks as if it hasn’t changed since Buddy Holly was rocking such venues. The Shoreline Roller Derby Girls are getting ready for their 2013 season: 13 bouts from March to September in Groton and other cities around the Northeast. They will practice three nights a week.
McPherson, who is 38, a hairdresser and from Groton, is one of four pioneering “Derby Girls” who started the shoreline league rolling two years ago. Her previous athletic experience was as a cheerleader. She had taken her son to Galaxy for a birthday party when she spied the sign-up poster that posed the existential question: “Do you want to do roller derby?”
She remembers the moment vividly: “It was like, right away, yes I do. Mind you, I knew nothing about roller derby at all, but I went out the next day and bought the equipment. I had to rent skates for the first few practices. There were four of us and we had the best time. It was love. I felt great getting in shape and wearing fishnets. Who could ask for anything more?”
Raw recruits, known in derby parlance as “fresh meat,” are whirling around the track, two dozen strong. They are learning how to skate in a pack, to block and check opponents, how to pass the opposition, and most important, how to fall. There will be spills and if skaters don’t “fall small,” with hands and arms protected by their torso, there will be broken bones.
Milling about the folding chairs set against cinder block walls 20 feet from the elongated skating ellipse, McPherson and the other veterans are suiting up: knee and elbow pads, wrist and mouth guards—and mascara. This bevy of “girls” is up next; girls is what these 20- to 40-somethings call themselves. A mysterious breeze swirls, as if the air conditioning is on; there are no doors or windows in this bunker to account for it. Then it dawns: It’s the girls careening around the track. The skaters not only have a league of their own, they create their own weather.
Shelby “Britney’s Fears” Carlson, of East Lyme, is at the practice, too, even though she’s nursing two injuries (wrist and foot) from last season and can’t skate. Her husband volunteers as a referee and participates in the drills. Shelby is 36 and studying for a degree in business management; the couple has five children. Like many derby girls, she had an epiphany at her first roller bout. She’d been doing Jazzercise to stay in shape, but hadn’t played sports since middle school. “As soon as the girls came onto the track I was star-struck,” she recalls, “I thought, this is me, I have to do this. I can’t quite explain it, it just took over. I have to be at practice. I have to know everything. I have to watch.”
Geoffrey Sewell is at practice, too, helping out and watching his daughter Meg “Nduce N Agony,” of Norwich, skate: “I was astonished when she wanted to try this, and more astonished when I came and saw what she was doing—the intensity, the excitement and the enthusiasm. These girls live for this. There aren’t a lot of opportunities for this kind of competition for women at their age. They travel all over to scout and see the other teams play. It’s addictive.”