By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
With apologies to J.R.R. Tolkien, whose fantastic writings did not, for some reason, include a story about roller derby, I am the lord of the rink.
Or I would have been if I had been able to stand on skates long enough to be a roller derby queen.
That was my goal when I went to World Gym in East Setauket, N.Y., to try out for the Strong Island Derby Revolution, a women’s flat-track roller derby league whose travel team competes against squads from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
I signed up for the recruiting session because, even though I am a guy and would not be eligible to play, I have a feminine side. Unfortunately, that’s the side I frequently landed on, a more compelling reason why I wasn’t eligible to play.
I should have known I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the women who tried out because I had never been on roller skates, I am old and I am pathetically out of shape.
That didn’t stop Kristi Altieri-Smith, the Revolution’s head of public relations and one of the league’s best players, from welcoming me to the tryout.
“We would love for you to attend,” Kristi wrote in an email, which she signed with her roller derby nickname: Bite-Size Brawler.
When I arrived at the rink, I picked my own roller derby nickname: Average-Size Geezer.
Julie Dekom, who co-founded the Revolution in 2011 and is known as Wreck’em Deck’em, liked my nickname so much that she wrote it on a piece of white tape that she stuck on my black helmet, part of the mandatory equipment that included knee and elbow pads and, of course, roller skates.
After putting on my size 11s, which were kindly provided by the league, I took one step and down I went. After several more spectacular spills, Diane White, also known as Doc Block, said, “You’re falling better.”
I replied, “I turned the other cheek.”
Diane admitted, “I’m not a real doctor — I got my nickname from a character in ‘Grindhouse’ — but I play one in roller derby.”
She wasn’t skating because she recently needed the services of a real doctor for such foot problems as tendinitis and plantar fasciitis. She also once tore a rotator cuff.
Julie sustained a trimalleolar fracture in 2011 but has fully recovered and is back in action. “They put some titanium screws in my ankle,” she said matter-of-factly.
Injuries are part of the game. But these roller derby players are real athletes, which is more than I can say for myself. That’s why I didn’t join the action in the center of the rink. I figured I would fall — this time on my face — and be run over by so many roller skate wheels that I would end up as flat as a pepperoni pizza, though not nearly as appetizing.
The women in the league (thederbyrevolution.com) pay a fee to play. Their bouts, which regularly draw hundreds of fans, have raised money for charitable causes such as the Wounded Warrior Project and the Suffolk County Coalition Against Domestic Violence. And they come from all walks (or rolls) of life.
“We have doctors, lawyers, women from diverse backgrounds,” said Julie, who works as a processor for a financial group and has three children. “A lot of us are moms. We even have a couple of grandmothers.”
“I’m a new grandpa,” I said.
“Congratulations!” Julie said. “You’d fit right in.”
“Even though I can barely stand up?” I asked.
“You’re doing much better,” Julie noted. “A couple more days on skates and you’ll be a pro.”
“Call it feminine intuition,” I said, “but I’ll never be a roller derby queen.”
Copyright 2013 by Jerry Zezima