May is upon us once again – let the traditions commence. Swing around a Maypole; pig out at a Memorial Day barbecue; shake your maracas on Cinco de Mayo. Breathe easy, fashionistas: you can wear white again, sans shame. For all you sinners (myself included), the month of May is synonymous with gambling and booze – in the form of the Kentucky Derby and mint juleps, of course. But, a select few (who are tough as blood red-painted nails), know that there’s a new derby tradition hitting the Ocean State this month. So ladies, if you’re wearing an oversized hat while daintily sipping a sweet tea, you might want to step aside. Make way for the intrepid and indomitable roller derby girls, as the inaugural Northeast Derby Convention comes to the Rhode Island Convention Center from May 25-27. The event will play host to elite derby trainers and coaches for off-skates seminars, skating clinics (ouch) and scrimmages (double ouch). Attendees can also expect a full vendor expo, games and parties.
Founded in 2004, the Providence Roller Derby league was the first all-female, flat-track roller derby league in all of New England. Currently, the league practices in Narragansett; bouts are held both in Narragansett and in Providence. A self-governed non-profit, the league consists of three home teams and two travel teams. Charlestown resident Cindy Lou Screw plays on three of those five teams: Killah Bees, the Rhode Island Riveters and the Old Money Honeys (whose tongueiin-cheek motto is, “We play to win, equipped with our best assets: Daddy’s money and Mummy’s attitude”). In order to be a derby girl, one must be not just rugged but dedicated and inordinately hardworking. Practices can be long – four hours sometimes – and frequent in occurrence. Cindy Lou practices several times per week, often with aches and pains that would keep most of us relegated to our couches.
These girls don’t play around. With names such as Shelby Bruisin’, Bust’er Apart, Trophy Knife and SmackGyver, those in the crowd get a hint of what’s to come just by reading the backs of jerseys as the ladies enter the coated concrete skating rink. Speaking of fashion sense, the derby divas keep it interesting with their bold make-up, brightly colored (and patterned) knee socks and a vast array of accessories – some of which are temporary (fishnets) and some of which are not (tattoos). It’s not uncommon to see a few facial piercings either, which may seem counterintuitive, as the odds of them getting ripped right out are not exactly slim to none. According to Cindy Lou, “One of my teammates got hit in the face once and her brand new nose ring got knocked right out. She couldn’t find it anywhere. Knowing that the hole would close right up, I took my nose ring out and gave it to her. I call that my ‘true friend moment.’” Richmond resident Rhode Kill, who plays on the Providence Mob Squad, has been playing with the league for six years. “When I started, I had no idea how much athleticism, game knowledge or dedication was required,” Rhode says of her beginnings. The Mob Squad is a home team. I retired from the Riveters, our all star/travel team, at the end of last season, after five fun filled years.”
When the league formed, Mob Squad was the only team; that first batch of derby debutantes tended toward Mafia-themed names. Most skaters choose their names nowadays based on their interests, heroes or favorite TV, movie or book characters. “I chose the name Rhode Kill after brainstorming with friends and family. After I had a good list, I took my three favorites and did a poll. Rhode Kill won by a landslide,” she says with a laugh. The skaters also pick a tagline. “My number is 90mph,” Rhode says, “and my tagline is ‘She’ll go out of her way to run you down.’”
Most times, each skater’s individual look, follows the theme of her name. Rhode says of some of her fashion choices, “I like what I like. I have added booty shorts, false eyelashes and face paint.” Rhode also adjusts her style to the team she’s currently playing on. “Mob is pretty tough and gangsta, so I wear black, pinstripes and gold highlights. When I played for the Riveters I did more of a ‘40s pin-up look, with polka dots like Rosie the Riveter herself.” And as for the socks? “I have a wonderful derby sock collection,” Rhode says proudly. “Many sport brass knuckles and guns, which go great with the mob theme. Others have anchors and polka dots, which went great with my Riveters persona.”
Like Cindy Lou, Rhode is no stranger to hard work – and being on the injured list. She practices three nights per week and spends several days in the gym in addition to that doing cardio, lifting weights or biking and running. “I enjoy doing triathlons and even did a Tough Mudder competition in Vermont last year,” Rhode says, further cementing her athletic prowess. Bruises, bumps and cuts are kids’ play to this tough lady warrior. In fact, her worst skating-induced injury thus far has been a separated shoulder that was later re-injured several times. She now wears a shoulder brace to prevent further damage. “I’ve also had my jaw dislocated twice and have broken a finger,” she says, “but other than that just the regular bumps and bruises.” Right.
That’s the reason Rhode – and most of the other derby girls – train so hard, and so often. “The more fit you are,” she says, “the less injuries that will happen... and the recovery is always faster.” It’s also important to stay abreast of current trends and research, including proper body mechanics and choosing appropriate safety gear. Hence, the excitement regarding the upcoming derby convention. “I think [the convention] is a great opportunity for any skater to learn, meet great people with similar interests and just have some great derby fun,” she says with enthusiasm.
Allie Trela, who is better known as Dee Stortion, is the brain behind the Northeast Derby Convention. Dee owns Bruised Boutique Skate Shop of Nashua, NH – the largest brick and mortar roller derby store in the entire country.
“I was told that I never took my roller skates off as a kid,” Dee says, “but I didn’t know I was tough back then. I found out through roller derby that I am a lot tougher than I thought I was.” She’s had her nose broken and was “sort of okay with it.” She’s dislocated and broken a shoulder mid-bout, but returned to the ring to play the rest of the game. “I have pushed myself through... and have come out the other side stronger.” Dee is the poster child for persistence and perseverance. “I think what makes a good derby girl is someone who pushes herself mentally and physically to grow. Eating right, sleeping enough, practicing, cross training, going to clinics... and treating yourself as an athlete will have profound results on how you perform.”
Dee saw a huge need for a convention here in the East Coast. “We have tournaments, but nothing where we can retreat for three days and learn about everything derby. It’s like derby heaven without all the pressure of tournaments.” She’s designed it so that skaters don’t have to stand in lines or pre-register for classes, really “bringing the level of derby up on the East Coast.” It may be held locally, but tickets are being sold all over the world. “Not only should this event help you become a better skater,” she says, “but we’ve also included tons of sponsored games, prizes, events and parties, so it should be a lot of fun too.”
The Northeast Derby Convention 2012 will take place May 25-27 at the Rhode Island Convention Center, 1 Sabin Street, Providence.