By Jie Jenny Zou
When Mandy Bowman is not teaching her rambunctious crop of 7th and 8th graders the finer points of the American Revolution in P.S. 140 on the Lower East Side, you can find her an hour drive’s away in United Skates of America, a popular roller skating venue in Massapequa, Long Island.
“It’s never too far to drive for derby,” said the Brooklyn dweller who resides in Sunset Park.
For Bowman, the underground sport of roller derby is a way to stay in shape while relieving stress. “You get all those work-out endorphins–just make you happier in general all day long,” said Bowman, who just made the team after trying out for the league in November.
The American History teacher was the one taking the tests when it came to roller derby, passing a skills test and a written test as her final stride into the league.
“I’ve always been a heavier girl,” explained Bowman of her decision to take up the contact sport. “I was like alright, ‘what sport can I play where I can use what I got?’ Roller Derby. I’ll get fast, I’ll get steady, and nobody’s knocking me over.”
The game of roller derby gained public attention with the release of such mainstream films as 2009’s “Whip It,” which capitalized on a female-dominated sport known for its physical aggression as well as the kitschy names and revealing attire of its players.
Based in Old Bethpage, the Long Island Roller Rebels, or L.I.R.R., is one of 70 women’s flat track derby leagues across the country. According to L.I.R.R., the term “roller derby” originates in the 1920s with roller skate races; a far cry from the modern day sport that encompasses as much physical contact as hockey.
The league hosts all of its bouts at Skate Safe America in Old Bethpage, which converts its roller hockey venue for roller derby once a month on Saturday for a night of high-octane, rebellious skating fun.
Five skaters from each of the two teams are on the track at any given game, or ’bout,’ which consists of individual plays called ‘jams.’ One member of each team is a ‘jammer’ and the other four are either ‘pivots’ or ‘blockers.’
Jammers, who sport large colored stars on their helmets, score a point for each opposing team member that they pass along the track. The pivots and blockers make up the ‘pack,’ whose main duty is to impede the opposing team’s jammer on her lap around the track by most means necessary–‘hip-checks’, ‘booty-blocking’ and just plain-old shoving.
But life on the flat track isn’t all fishnet stockings and pink–it’s also a lot of work.
“There’s a minimum of about 12 to 15 hours a week,” said All-Stars team captain Lauren Madonia a.k.a Captain Morgan Madonia, who works as a surgical coordinator, said that derby is all about balance, both on and off the track.
That sentiment rings especially true for Mary Kate Amossi, a pastry chef and co-owner of “Villa Napoli” in Smithtown, who considers roller derby a lifestyle.
“My husband and I are very big sports fans and when I found out what derby was, it was really exciting because it’s not just like another female sport that copies the male sport and no one really care about it,”said Amossi, whose moniker is the aptly-named “Anita Cookie.” “People really don’t follow the men’s roller derby as much as the women’s roller derby.”
The full-time mother joined the league in 2008 before taking off for maternity leave and chalks up the unique sport as a cross between Nascar and hockey.
“This is something that I really love and want to show my daughter that this is a real sport and I hope one day that it’s as mainstream as baseball and football and that it’s something that she can do maybe,” Amossi said.
Spectators are encouraged to sit as close to the action as safely possible with most seasoned fans bringing along their own lawn chairs as impromptu trackside seats. Bouts are played in 30-minute halves for a full-hour game of non-stop hip checks and fast-paced laps. Players skate so rapidly around the oval flat track that they are often nothing more than a pink blur.
“Even though I’m getting older, I still like that physicality of it,” said Stephanie Finochio, who considers roller derby an alternative to the ho-hum gym routine. “Girls hitting you left and right, the track awareness, trying to score the points to jam and block people, and just so much going on and it’s so much more exciting than going to the gym and working out or running.”
The former pro-wrestler and current stunt woman is no stranger to physical pain, but is a newbie to roller derby, having recently passed her skills and written test.
“I could be thrown out of a moving car, falling down stairs, being set on fire, jumping off of buildings, so that’s crazy, but there’s a lot of down time in film-work,” Finochio explained. “You’re not constantly working out so you do need this kind of training to keep you in shape.”
Clinical Psychologist Veronique Deutsch, a.k.a. Dr. Freudy N. Slip, spends her days working with special needs pre-schoolers doing mostly play therapy. But at night, Deutsch has her own personal form of play therapy–roller derby.
Deutsch began her side career in derby as a grad student, skating originally with the Penn Jersey She Devils–a derby league based in Philadelphia.
“When I joined my team in Philly, I was holding onto the wall,” recalled Deutsch of her early beginnings. “I had not skated since a second grade birthday party.”
As a seasoned skater, Deutsch has encountered her fair share of stereotypes when it comes to the misunderstood sport.
“Everybody thinks I punch everybody in the face and that I skate on a bank track,” she said. “But then you just kind of explain to them that it’s a real sport and that we have real teams, real rules–40 pages of rules–we have to take a written test, physicals test and people can’t even believe it.”