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‘Yeah, we get a lot of bruises’: Roller derby skates north to Aroostook County

Posted March 09, 2014, at 2:33 p.m.
Last modified March 09, 2014, at 4:06 p.m.
Roller derby is all about speed, skill and the hits — taking and giving. Members of the Aroostook Roller Derby League practice those and more Saturday at the Limestone high school gymnasium.
Julia Bayly
Roller derby is all about speed, skill and the hits — taking and giving. Members of the Aroostook Roller Derby League practice those and more Saturday at the Limestone high school gymnasium. Buy Photo
Susan &quotBounty" Plissey gives a blast on her whistle as she starts a training exercise for team members in the Aroostook Roller Derby League on Saturday in Limestone
Julia Bayly
Susan "Bounty" Plissey gives a blast on her whistle as she starts a training exercise for team members in the Aroostook Roller Derby League on Saturday in Limestone Buy Photo
It takes a certain level of skill, athleticism and fearlessness to participate in roller derby. The ladies in the Aroostook Roller Derby League possess all of that.
Julia Bayly
It takes a certain level of skill, athleticism and fearlessness to participate in roller derby. The ladies in the Aroostook Roller Derby League possess all of that. Buy Photo
Members of the Aroostook Roller Derby League practice their skills and speed Saturday in Limestone.
Julia Bayly
Members of the Aroostook Roller Derby League practice their skills and speed Saturday in Limestone. Buy Photo

LIMESTONE, Maine — At some point, all little girls are told to play quietly, always use their “inside voices,” and never, ever hit each other.

The 33 ladies who make up the Aroostook Roller Derby League apparently never got the message or have chosen to ignore it — at least when it comes to competition on skates.

“This is a legal move, I’m showing you legal,” Susan Plissey, aka “Bounty,” the league’s co-executive director and chief of training, told a group of skaters Saturday afternoon in the Limestone high school gymnasium as she used her hip to push them aside.

Minutes later, she blew her whistle and sent the skaters around the gym in a series of exercises aimed at improving skill, speed and confidence. It’s also where they learn to give and take the hits that can send a skater flying off her feet and across the floor.

Roller derby has skated into northern Maine, and it’s for the ladies only.

“Right now we are still training and have only a handful of scrimmage [and] bout eligible skaters,” Samantha “Zom B. Bite” White, the league’s media relations representative, said. “So we just have the one team, but once we have more skaters who can enter actual bouts, we will probably have an A team, a B team and a C team.”

Make no mistake, roller derby is a full-contact sport with plenty of hits, blocks and falls — all while the women careen around a flat course on roller skates.

Helmets, knee pads, gloves and elbow guards are standard equipment for the competition, played in 60-minute bouts with two 30-minute periods.

Each period is made up of two-minute “jams” in which each team’s single “jammer” attempts to skate, push and otherwise force herself through the opposing team’s “pack” of four blockers, who skate as her own team’s blockers attempt to clear a path and fight off the opposing jammer’s progress.

For every opposing blocker a jammer passes, she earns a point.

It’s fast, it’s loud and it’s not for the faint of heart.

“You can use your shoulders, your hips, your butt or full-body contact,” Plissey said. “Yeah, we get a lot of bruises and when people get tired, there can be hurt feelings.”

Before a skater can participate in full-on derby bouts and scrimmages, she first must pass a series of skills tests sanctioned by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association and administered by league coaches.

There are currently five roller derby leagues in Maine.

“Roller derby is a great way for women to come together for sisterhood in a team sport,” Plissey said. “It’s also a great way for these athletes to get a workout.”

Anyone can try out for the league, according to White.

Nonskaters can help out as league officials, skaters who are fearful of getting hurt make great referees — or “zebras” — and true skaters are welcome to suit up and try out for the team.

“If you can’t skate but want to learn how, we’ll teach you,” White said. “When I started I could barely stand on my skates [and] now with a lot of perseverance, sore muscles, some crying from frustration and lots of practice I can actually skate forwards and backwards and do other crazy things I wouldn’t have thought possible.”

In keeping with derby tradition, each woman selects her own unique derby name, and many attended practice in bright leggings or fishnet stockings.

“It’s how derby was back in the day,” Plissey, who first got involved with the sport after seeing the 2009 movie “Whip It!” which stars Ellen Page as a young Texas girl who becomes the star skater on an Austin roller derby team.

“I heard they had [roller derby] in Bangor and I thought, ‘man, the women up here would love it,’” Plissey said.

Plissey started the Aroostook league last October and travels up to twice a week to Old Town to hone her skills with the Central Maine Derby League.

“I had to learn how to skate and pass the skills tests before I could do this,” she said. “I was just like everyone else when I first got on the skates and ran into walls just like everyone else.”

In March, the Aroostook skaters will play their first bout when they travel to Rockland to skate against the Rock Coast Rollers.

“We are really excited and nervous about that,” Plissey said.

Aroostook league members range in age from 17 to late 40s. There are mothers, business owners, professionals and students on the team. Each pays dues to help fund the league.

“I wanted to do this from the moment I first saw it on Facebook,” league member Shauna “Ginger Ailment” Johnson said. “I was confident on skates and thought I’d do pretty good but I fell on my face right away — it’s no big deal, it’s just a bruise.”

For 34-year-old Kate “Zoe e’taK” Goodwin, derby is worth a few falls and bruises.

“Who hasn’t watched ‘Whip It!’ and not wanted to do this?” she said. “I was not afraid of the contact and pushing people out of my way and out of bounds is incredibly satisfying.”

Watching practice on Saturday was Goodwin’s 9-year-old daughter Avery Knowles.

“It’s cool,” the youngster said as her mom skated off the course. “I watch her fall and I think ‘that must hurt,’ but I think she’s doing a great job and it’s fun to watch her.”

Goodwin said the supportive environment shared by the competitive women is a huge draw. She added they all are looking forward to testing their skills at the Rockland bout where they will meet a team of “fresh meat,” skaters who — like those in the Aroostook league — are relatively new to the sport.

“We are kind of hoping that means they are close or at our level,” Goodwin said.

Anyone looking to join the league can contact the team on its Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/AroostookRollerDerby or email aroostookrollerderby@gmail.com.

“We don’t start hitting new members right away,” Plissey said with a grin.

Hits, falls and hard work are all worth it, according to Johnson.

“You get to be a badass,” she said. “Look at me, I’m almost 40. Where else do you get to do that?”

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