“There’s no ‘sorry’ in derby,” explains Rackelle Roden, a recent recruit to the Mid-Hudson Misfits roller derby team. Coming from a non-sports background and having worked in professions like classical concert promotion and energy healing, it was hard for her when first joining the team (and still is, to some extent) purposely to bump into the other women on the track and not instinctively say, “Sorry!” or move aside when the goal is to move in. “There’s no moving aside in derby, either,” her new teammates told her.
That permission to be assertive has opened up an entirely new world for Roden, who credits roller derby with allowing her to be more comfortable “taking up space” in the world and being more present in the moment. (That seems to be a problem for many women, socialized to apologize their way through life.) The physical workout in roller derby has also made Roden in better shape at age 52 than she was before taking up the sport, despite being a lifelong dancer and yoga practitioner. The skating has done things for her body, she says, loosening up a hip and freeing up her shoulder, that all that yoga work and even a summer of flamenco dancing never did.
Beyond the mental and physical breakthroughs, however, roller derby is just plain fun, she says. The fast, constant motion is exhilarating, and there’s a sense of accomplishment in learning new skills. “I’ve learned something from every one of these women. It’s not one teacher telling you what to do; everybody has an interest in everybody getting better.”
The women on the Mid-Hudson Misfits are a close-knit group, with the camaraderie that they share a big part of being in the roller derby community. And they take that caring for each other out into the greater world, too, donating some of the ticket proceeds from their matches and doing fundraising activities to benefit nonprofits that include the Special Olympics and Habitat for Humanity.
The Mid-Hudson Misfits will have the home advantage when they take on their first bout of the 2016 season against Cortlandt’s Seven Valley Rollers on Saturday, April 2 at Skate Time 209 in Accord. The doors open at 4 p.m. and the match begins at 5 p.m. Tickets cost $10 in advance or $12 at the door, with a portion of the proceeds going to the regional branch of Special Olympics. Cold beer and cider will be available for purchase. The next home game after this one will take place on May 7.
The Misfits formed as a team in 2012. New players age 18 or older are always welcome, with hopes to expand the group into multiple teams and eventually a junior division for ages 12 to 18 (maybe even 8-to-12-year-olds at some point). Referees and other volunteers are also needed. Men may join in on mixers; the team has a couple of guys who regularly practice with its members. Anyone wishing to check out derby with the idea of joining can come to the regular weekly practices held at Skate Time 209 in Accord on Mondays and Wednesdays from 7 to 10 p.m. and Saturdays from 4 to 7 p.m. The monthly fee to join is $40.
New skaters have to pass a minimum skills test before they can compete in a bout, but practices give everyone the chance to participate and work up to the point where they’re ready to compete. And newbies (“fresh meat,” as they’re called) are given a lot of help from the more experienced in learning the skills. Having just joined the team herself four months ago, Roden is still working on getting up to speed.
As for the potential for injuries, “You are on skates and you’re moving very fast, and crashing into people to get them to move or to stop moving,” she says. “And I fall all the time. But you know what? I get up.” Like the other women, Roden wears a helmet and kneepads while skating, and says that she adds snowboarding pads over her hips, rear end and legs at practice. Some of the women wear protective hockey mouthguards and face gear. But the skating itself is low-impact on one’s joints, she points out, and the body feels weightless while skating in much the same way that it does swimming. A lot of calories are burned, and it’s aerobic exercise.
“Derby is actually really empowering for women,” Roden maintains. “It’s not like in dance, where it’s all about perfect alignment and having the perfect body type. Any body type can get up to speed on skates, whether you’re small or heavier, and breast size is irrelevant in this sport. And hips are useful!”
Roden polled her teammates by e-mail to get their perspectives on the sport before we spoke. The comments made by the Misfits were entertaining to read: often funny, and sometimes even moving. Their answers to the questions posed revealed recurring themes in each woman’s experience with derby, even though their occupations are diverse, their prior sports experience ranges from none at all to collegiate rowing and motocross racing and they range in age from their 20s through their 50s (and if there’s a woman out there in her 60s who wants to play, “Come on out,” says Roden). As they say of themselves, the women are “anything but cookie-cutter and proud of it.”
The Mid-Hudson Misfits live throughout the mid-Hudson region, from Olive, Catskill, Saugerties and Germantown to Rosendale, New Paltz, Kingston and Woodstock – even as far south as New Windsor. Their occupations include social work, nursing, retail management and occupational therapy. There are several teachers, a psychologist, a structural engineer, an on-air news and traffic reporter, a mathematician, a homeschooling Mom, a spa attendant, a horse trainer and the vice president and community liaison for UFCW Local 888.
Why did they join? For some, it was about coping with life changes: Marriages were ending, kids were going off to college or being the caretaker of elderly parents was taking its toll. For others, it was the physical challenge, the exercise – especially exercise that wasn’t at a gym – or rediscovering a childhood love of skating. One woman said that in her male-dominated profession, it’s hard to meet other women to befriend, and another said that she liked crafting an alternate persona (all the women create a derby name for themselves). “I was promised cookies,” joked another.
Many of the women cited the hardest thing about derby being the time commitment to it: getting to those three practices a week in Accord and juggling that with work and personal life. But having said that, “It’s totally worth it,” said one, and “The hardest thing now would be giving it up,” said another. “Hitting the wall” in terms of endurance was mentioned, as were a few regrets about getting injured and having to watch from the sidelines (and even that was “worth every ice pack.”) Those new to skating said that just learning to skate at first was a challenge: learning a toe-stop, remembering the sequence of the drills.
But any down side is outweighed by the benefits: friendship, sisterhood, community involvement, increased confidence and a better, stronger body. In addition to “lots of co-pays,” said Misfits team member Sarah Winden (also known as Ophelia Knockers), derby has given her “a new view of myself as an athlete.” LeeAnne Richards (Wreck-It Raccoon) noted that for anybody self-conscious about body issues, “derby will hip-check those feelings back into the last century.”
Several women said that they appreciate having a group of teammates to whom they can feel committed. “The women of this team are incredible on and off the track,” said Vanessa (Sassy Ka-Boom). “I’m lucky to know them and have them as an awesome support system.” Roller derby, she added, “gave me my life back. Stress can be a real killer, and derby is a lifesaver.”
Dominique Waldron (Piña Killada) said that she loves that the sport challenges her and pushes her beyond her comfort zone. “I also love that derby is so body-positive. It doesn’t matter that by normal standards I’m petite; derby has taught me to love my body and utilize my speed.”
As for how derby compares with other sports, Kathy Venable (Square Broot) said that it’s different “because it’s all happening behind you, rather than a traditional face-forward sport, and it’s happening very quickly. Your first few bouts, it’s exciting just to skate and stay on the track if you can; eventually you can add in more skills and strategy.” Ellen Sweet (Rusty Foxidation) said that without a head coach on the sidelines in charge of it all, “it feels like there is more accountability for everyone on the team, and a lot more pride for everything we’ve accomplished.”
The shared activities and community work that the team does was brought up by many of the women. “What I love about the team is: Not only do we play roller derby together, but we also share other activities like motorcycle riding, rafting, hiking, holidays, volunteering and helping communities in need,” said Teresa Gallagher (Brooklyn BruiseHer). Amberly Jane Campbell (Jane Bondage) said, “It’s like being part of a really cool gang that just wants to help the community and spread derby love. Derby makes me feel like a superhero!”
Mid-Hudson Misfits vs. Cortlandt Seven Valley Rollers, Saturday, April 2, 5 p.m., $10-$12, Skate Time 209, 5164 Route 209, Accord; (845) 626-7971, www.skatetime209.com, www.midhudsonmisfits.com, www.facebook.com/midhudsonmisfits, www.brownpapertickets.com.