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The sport in roller derby
Women do it for competition, exercise, team spirit
Betty Luvsit (left) teaches a camper crossover manuevers on day four. - photo by Phgoto by Patty Leon

Even with the hard falls, twisted ankles and the occasional sprained ego there were still 66 skaters on day four of the Savannah Derby Devils boot camp.

According to Devil Dana Felty, aka Fear Abby, the numbers of registrants hit 95 after a few more folks signed in the day after orientation.

Campers pained their way through lessons ranging from self propelling maneuvers to plow stops. They attempted graceful long glides, pushing forward on their skates, finding their balance and trying their best ballet look as they lifted one leg off the floor, hoping not to fall.

Newbies rounded corners with the crossover move, praying one leg would clear the other instead of locking together, reeling you face forward onto the fast track. The steadfast determination on everyone’s faces as they listened to their Devil instructors were immediately replaced with fear as their turn approached to try a new challenge. That was quickly replaced with laughter and cheers as they accomplished each milestone.

It was about sisterhood. It was about new experiences and challenges, and for newbie Tina Wallace it was about time.

Wallace, 44, was experiencing her first boot camp.

"This is the first time I’ve skated in 30 years," Wallace said after finish night number four.

The current Port Wentworth resident said a friend invited her.

"And I jumped on it," she said. "I did it for exercise, a good time and for something different. It’s been great."

Wallace’s sentiments were echoed by many campers.

Those who came out night after night, covering blisters with bandages, taping knee pads in place and skating through the pain, understood there was much more going on than just the motions or learning a new trick. They were becoming part of a larger family.

No one could better describe the love, history and nostalgia of roller derby life better than the Savannah Derby Devils’ team matriarch, Fear Abby.

The longest tenured member of the Devils’ squad, she could remember the joy of skating as a pre-teen hosting birthday parties at a skating rink. But, she said, the era of family-style skating began to sour as she became a teenager.

"Skating rinks started to become these really sketchy places to be," she said. "Roller rinks really got nasty. Your family couldn’t take you skating anymore and you stopped skating."

In 2006, Felty said a friend formed the league that started the Savannah Derby Devils. She was asked to try out, but told her friend she would just help out by performing administrative duties and book-keeping.

"I had this image pop in my head of falling on my knees as a 5-year-old and digging rocks out of my bloody knee," she said.

But her friend convinced her to lace up.

"As soon as I put on some skates, all I remembered was being 12, the wind flowing through my hair and it just felt really good to be on roller skates," she said. "You feel like you’re a kid again. There are people, me included, who really do enjoy roller skating a lot and we forgot how much fun it is. Once I put on roller skates again I remembered I loved this. There was something about roller skating that just made me feel like me."

Felty said she likes the recent incarnation of roller derby, which focuses more on skills and athleticism than former staged WWE fighting style of the 1970s and ‘80s.

"There is a real challenge in the sport, and the way they are developing the rules, emphasizing sportsmanship, is allowing these amazing athletes to emerge in the sport," she said. "I don’t know too many full contact sports that women are encouraged to do. There is something really cool about the fact that women are celebrated doing full contact in this sport. To know there are people there cheering for you."

LaLania Minnick-Jones aka Re-Anne Forcer is the second longest Devils member. The aircraft mechanic said she never had many girlfriends working in a male-dominated industry. She said the female friendships she fosters and the competitive nature of the sport keep her returning year after year.

"It is the best alternative to the gym because it is never the same, you push yourself and you burn calories quicker than you can even think," she said. "I’ve always wanted to learn to skate. I went to the skating rink a handful of times as a kid, but I’ve always wanted to really learn how to skate. It was a personal challenge because it was a new sport and each skill was a new challenge for me. I felt I accomplished something every time I mastered a maneuver. It’s always improvement in this sport because there is always going to be somebody faster, that hits harder and that can out maneuver you so you have to push yourself."

While determined to hang in for the long haul Minnick-Jones said it has gotten a bit rougher.

"My endurance is not what it used to be," she said. "When I was younger it would come back a lot quicker. If you are laid out of this sport for two weeks your endurance is zapped and you have to build yourself back up. I’m able to hang, but aches, pains and bruises are a little bit more noticeable."

Felty said longevity in the sport depends on physical fitness and personal career and life choices.

While the Devils can’t control certain things, they know they need to stay diverse when it comes to training.

The girls do a lot of cross training, immersing themselves in community races and events like the Enmark Bridge run and the Tybee Race.

"I don’t know a whole lot else out there when it comes to recreation, athleticism, physical fitness and a social group that makes more sense to me than this," Felty said.

"I think it would be really neat to be a team player," newbie Wallace said. "I know that my skill levels aren’t there but I would like to continue skating, come back next year and who knows."

Wallace said she plans to bring a host of friends with her next year.

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