By Shelby Hartin
Special to The Weekly
Children skitter around the gymnasium, screeching and chucking basketballs at ragged
nets hanging from aged orange hoops. The room smells empty, devoid of sweat and filled instead with high-pitched laughter echoing off the walls. At 8 p.m., as if on cue, parents corral their youngsters, pulling off their dirty sneakers in exchange for winter boots. A group of women stand outside the gymnasium entrance, waiting with weighted duffels on
their shoulders while the room clears.
As they enter, the women start pulling kneepads, wrist guards, and helmets from their bags. The last of the youngsters watch wide-eyed as the women lace up worn roller skates
and wrestle into their gear.
“I’m getting low on derby laundry, so I had to dig deep,” lawyer Jennifer Eastman jokes to the others as she surveys her teal leggings topped with a pair of grey shorts. She pops in a mouth guard and fastens her helmet.
And just like that, she takes on a different identity. Miss Anthrope — formidable, fierce and ready to jam in roller derby competition.
Roller derby began its modern revival in the early 21st century as an all-female, woman-organized sport. Once popular with men and women, the sport fizzled out a few decades
ago, but has recently experienced a comeback. According to the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, this revival was led largely by a group of women in Texas who formed the Texas Rollergirls — a group that helped to rebuild the sport into what it is today. Now, more than 1,250 leagues exist, according to derbyroster.com.
The common thread tying female teams across the United States together: the women who define the sport.
Central Maine Derby is the largest flat track roller derby league in the greater Bangor area. A group of aspiring female athletes established the league in 2012, hoping to create an environment where all women could play. They practice in the gym of the Orono-Old Town YMCA at least once a week, and compete against teams from far and wide, including the NH Roller Derby Cherry Bombs of New Hampshire.
Players in roller derby take on nicknames they use while playing. These names are often seen as an opportunity to take on a new identity, and many act as a play on words.
Painbow Brite glides over to a bench, clad in a dizzying array of colors head to toe — from the black and yellow Steelers hat to the electric lime wheels of her skates. The small statured woman has a gentle demeanor and a generous smile. Off the floor, Ellen Lauer works as a pediatrician.
“Derby is my real job,” she jokes with a sly glance.
Inside the gym, the practice scrimmage has started. A chorus of voices blend with the sound of wheels on hardwood, and the clash of skates and gear. The women of Central Maine Derby are bouncing off one another and shooting across the floor like bullets.
For many of the women on skates, roller derby is an outlet for their high-stress professions. “It’s very good therapy,” Eastman, a founder of Central Maine Derby, commented.
As the pitch of voices heighten and the sound of locking limbs echo off the gym walls, it’s clear that this therapy isn’t for the meek or weak of heart.
A roller derby bout has two 30-minute periods. A point is scored when one member of the five-member team, known as a jammer, laps a member of the opponents’ team. The other four members are blockers, who protect their jammer while attempting to take out the opposing jammer.
Suddenly, Pandorica — Panda for short — crashes to the floor after getting caught up in a teammate’s skates. She grips her leg with both hands, her stoic expression remaining nearly unchanged. Her teammates can tell she’s not getting back up.
Painbow Brite weaves through the others, removing her helmet as she sits down beside Panda. She assesses the situation with the help of Sheila Tekillya, and, as if with the flick of a finger, the two have assumed their everyday monikers. Lauer the pediatrician offers a sure hand and skilled touch. Sheila Tekillya returns to her real-life role as Sheila Raymond, a nurse.
Without warning, roller derby comes to a screeching halt.
Injuries in roller derby are common, just like any other sport. “We’ve had a few injuries — ankles, deep bruises. It can happen and we all know it can. We try to avoid it by doing strengthening exercises at home,” Panda said before her own slip in the gym. With the help of her teammates, she’s able to get to her feet and over to the bench.
Panda’s real name is Pam Albert. She works as an insurance agent, but today she wears knee high socks adorned with a likeness of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” Her derby name comes from “Doctor Who,” a popular science fiction television series, and she fondly remembers her early days on wheeled shoes: skating around her neighborhood blasting Paula Abdul’s album “Shut Up and Dance” from a boombox. Albert is a new scrimmager, but her involvement in roller derby has already given her a boost of confidence.
Raymond, a cardiac unit nurse, has experienced the same rush.
“I’ve always been an introvert in an extrovert’s body,” Raymond explains. “Being in derby, you get to be another person that you may never be day-to-day.”
One of Central Maine Derby’s goals is to help build women’s trust and confidence in themselves. The team members draw inspiration from each other. For that reason, players like Jennifer Eastman hope to see a junior roller derby team form for adolescent girls.
“I think roller derby is incredibly good for young girls. It teaches them that it’s OK to be strong and aggressive and fierce. I have two little girls who would very much like to play junior derby.”
So, what happens when a lawyer, an insurance agent and a doctor strap on roller skates?
Roller derby happens.
“It’s an inspiring thing to do to see a group of grown women be competitive athletes,” Lauer says.