Editor’s note: This is part one of a two part series covering the week-long roller derby boot camp. Sports editor Patty Leon is among the women strapping on the skates.
Knee pads, skates, bruises and sore muscles are becoming more familiar to a group of women in the Savannah Derby Devils roller derby boot camp in Garden City this week.
Formed in 2006, the Devils participate in flat-track roller derby style competitions against different teams across the area. A few years back they decided to teach ‘newbies’ the basics of skating and the fundamentals of their passion by hosting annual roller derby boot camps.
This year’s camp started on Sunday.
Roller derby was widely popular until the 1970s when it started to fade, though the sport stayed active through a variety of independent leagues and associations. Last year’s release of the movie "Whip-It," starring Drew Barrymore, Juliette Lewis and Ellen Page has re-ignited roller derby mania, apparent from the turnout at this year’s camp.
Chris Geronimos, aka Chief, got involved with the Derby Devils because of his wife, current Derby Devil Felony Melanie.
"She went to tryouts before they ever came out with the boot camp and I used to come out and watch her practice," he said. "I used to play hockey in college, so when she was getting reacquainted with skating I used to watch her and help her and give her advice. I was hanging around so much they asked me to be a referee."
For the past year and a half he’s been the team’s coach. He said the current Devils and the potential newbies run the gamut when it comes to their careers, ranging from teachers aides to medical professionals in their day to day activities.
But on the flat-track they are athletes and family members. Chief said the girls work hard to make the Savannah Derby Devils successful by working on their own public relations, merchandising, media relations and finances.
"They all take to that like a second job and on top of that they are top quality athletes," Chief said. "If you feel like you have anything you can add to that then you are part of the team. Our only rule is if you want to do something go out and do it."
Last year’s boot camp yielded several new players for the team. Among them is Kate Doyle, aka Cherry Buster.
She said she first learned about the boot camp in 2007 but as a grad student in Savannah she was unable to afford the $20 registration fee. As camp rolled around in 2008 she cut the ad out and taped it to her fridge, but said she forgot it until the day after camp ended.
She was determined to attend in 2009.
"I was really annoyed at myself," she said. "So when the 2009 ad came around I had that everywhere. It was on my fridge in my wallet and I had a good job so I could afford the $20 it would cost and it was a blast. It was so much fun I was hooked for life."
She said prior to camp she had not laced on skates for about 10-years.
"It was one time on roller blades, and before that it was back in elementary school," she said. "For me it’s about getting out some aggressions. Before this I led a very sedentary lifestyle and it was so exciting. It was like exercising that I love without feeling like I was exercising."
She said her parents love the sport, but were a little taken by her Derby name.
"My dad especially," she said. "But I said ‘dad let me send you the list and you’ll see this isn’t so bad.’"
This year, roughly 60 people came in for the first day of orientation. It was a basic meet and greet and an opportunity for ‘newbies’ to get properly fitted for skates, helmets and protective pads.
Some had never skated before, others’ experience ranged from minimal to expert. All were looking for an alternative experience in fun.
Camp participant Mandi Huff said she grew up in Ohio where she used to speed skate. By day she works at Savannah Vascular and Cardiac Institute as a surgical scheduler.
"This is my secret lifestyle," she said. "This is where I really belong, other than behind the desk looking at a computer all day. This is really me."
The 35-year-old said she feels like she’s still 25. She knew the experience would help broaden her horizon and meet new people. She said she plans to tryout for the team on June 29.
"That is my ultimate goal," Huff said. "If there is one thing I want to do before I die is to be part of the Derby Devils.
Huff brought co-worker Sara Knight along for the camp. Both said they were ready to release all their stress and aggression in the rink.
Knight said she used to surf and skateboard.
"This is an alternative lifestyle for me too," she said.
Newbie Sheila Allen said her friends have been trying to get her to attend boot camp for two years. Allen is a veterinarian technician at the Humane Society in Savannah and was a computer technician prior to that. She said she gave in after watching her first roller derby bout.
"I need a hobby and I need exercise and this looks awesome," Allen said.
She said she has skated leisurely in the past, but it had been quite a few years.
Devil Jocelyn McLaughlin, aka Molly Marine was another 2009 graduate who later made the squad.
She said, like most people in this year’s camp, it was a matter of curiosity at first.
"Boot camp was one of those things I thought I would come check it out and see how it goes for the week," McLaughlin said. "And I told my husband if I came to boot camp he better know he would be missing me three nights a week from then on. And that’s how it’s been."
Residing in Beaufort, she said the sport and her teammates make the trips to practice, three days a week, worthwhile.
"For me physical exercise is important, but doing it as a group and as a team and having that sisterly camaraderie that I think a lot of us have been missing since high school," she said. "It’s a great opportunity to come out and be the real you, not mom, not wife, but you."
McLaughlin’s son Steven, 10, thinks mom being a roller derby is pretty cool.
McLaughlin said the sport does have risks.
She broke her leg in February during a bout, but is back on skates helping the ‘newbies’ learn balance, skating maneuvers, how to fall properly and, more importantly, how to stop on skates.
Those were the top items on Monday’s agenda which was the first day the campers laced up and hit the flat-track.
"Shoulder above knees above the balls of your feet’" was the evening’s mantra as the Derby Devils separated the skaters into four groups for specialized instructions.
The basic stance is primarily aimed for everyone’s safety and helps skaters fall forward onto their pads and protective gear instead of flat on their tail-bones.
However, during the course of trial and error a few tail-bones were still shattered.