“Ok,” I said to myself, clinging nervously to the side of the bench at the Skehan Recreation Center in Hampden.
The neon colored skates on my feet felt unfamiliar. I slowly rose from the bench and lurched forward slightly, wobbling until I regained my balance.
“I feel like a newborn giraffe,” I said to no one in particular, staring down at the wheels that elevated my 5-foot, 10-inch frame even farther from the hardwood floor.
My co-worker Micky Bedell, a visual journalist, stood up without trouble and armed herself with cameras. She skated off comfortably, and I followed behind, my arms windmilling as I tried to keep my balance.
Katie Hamm, better known by her derby nickname “KTNT” in this environment, skated beside me, an encouraging smile on her face.
“You’re doing fine!” she said.
Members of the Bangor Roller Derby league flew past me, maneuvering their way through cones, shooting backward and lifting their legs in the air to stretch, all while on skates.
“How do you steer!?” I asked, attempting to round a corner. Katie laughed, a lighthearted sound that bounced around the gym.
As a child I went rollerblading all the time at Rollerama in Houlton. I loved flying across the floor on wheels, but last Thursday night when I strapped myself into roller skates at Bangor Roller Derby’s practice, it was unfamiliar. I’m used to inline skates, which operate differently than the four-wheeled roller skates used in roller derby. But that’s what this is all about — trying new things and letting you know what Bangor has to offer.
I wobbled around the gym a couple times, careful to avoid the experienced skaters, while also learning a bit about the nonprofit Bangor Roller Derby, an organization anyone can get involved in.
The women of Bangor Roller Derby are tough.
“Roller derby is a collision sport,” Katie said.
The hits are hard and injuries are common. Derby ladies use footwork, strategy and strength for this activity, fiercely colliding while maintaining the ability to gracefully glide across the floor like a war paint adorned figure skater. They practice twice per week, and those who frequent Relentless Strength Training in Bangor may have seen them before — they strength train twice per week as well.
I wasn’t unfamiliar with roller derby when I walked into the Skehan Recreation Center; in fact, I wrote a story about Central Maine Derby, a different Bangor-area league, last year while I was still at the University of Maine. I wanted to come back to it, though, and meet some more ladies of Bangor Roller Derby, which was founded in 2011 by Sarah DiLapi.
Katie was my first point of contact, and she welcomed Micky and me into the fray warmly.
“I loved roller skating and had just graduated from college and needed some kind of activity to do,” Katie said. “I always thought roller derby sounded cool, so I wanted to check it out. It was the hardest workout of my life. I went home and took a three-hour nap. I was so sore, but it was so much fun.”
Shouts and the sounds of clashing limbs and gear echoed off the walls as I skated around timidly. The ladies of Bangor Roller Derby practically flew around the gym and took on each other with full force without flinching. Every so often someone would go down hard. It was difficult not to flinch, but they usually bounced right back up. Newcomers like me aren’t nearly experienced enough to scrimmage with the team, so I watched from a safe distance.
Bangor Roller Derby’s next “bout” will take place at 4 p.m. Saturday, June 25, at the Skehan Recreation Center. They’re currently trying to find a new home for practicing and bouts closer to Bangor.
A bout has two 30-minute periods and point scoring takes place during “jams,” which are plays that last up to two minutes. A “jammer” muscles their way through the opponent’s team, which consists of three “blockers” and a “pivot,” and has to completely exit it to score points. Once the jammer fights their way out, they race around the track. Each time the jammer passes a member of the other team, they score a point.
Roller derby began its modern revival in the early 21st century as an all-female, woman-organized sport. According to the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, which Bangor Roller Derby is a member of, there are 369 Full Member Leagues and 76 Apprentice Leagues in the WFTDA, plus others not associated with it.
Roller derby isn’t just for women, either. There are junior leagues and men’s leagues, and Bangor Roller Derby actively recruits referees, coaches, announcers and nonskating officials and volunteers. In fact, their coach is a member of a men’s league.
The league welcomes people to join. Newbie nights are held every so often, and Bangor Roller Derby is trying to nail down a time right now. Becoming experienced enough to participate takes months of training, but for members of the league, it was definitely worth it. The league has a Facebook page that it updates regularly, so check it out if you’re interested.
If you’ve never experienced roller derby, you should check it out sometime, even if you’re just a spectator. It’s quite a sight to behold.