Note: Patch readers can listen to Cynosure Radio’s coverage of the Aurora 88s bout on Sunday at 7 p.m., either by coming here or visiting www.cynosureradio.com.
Most of the time, she’s Amber Bain, a 31-year-old Montgomery resident who works at a community counseling center.
But when she straps on her skates, she’s Ivy Sedation, fearless captain of the Glamazons, facing off against her foes, the Hard Core Corruption and the Divas de Las Muertas. Amber Bain is friendly, even a bit shy. Ivy Sedation, on the other hand, is in it to win it, and will skate rings around you.
This is the world of roller derby, a sport that has been around since the 1930s, but has recently seen a full-on revival as an athletic event, and is under consideration for inclusion in the 2020 Olympic Games. And all it takes is a few minutes under the roof of the Aurora Skate Center on Montgomery Road to see just how seriously roller derby players take it.
For the past year, the Skate Center has been the home of the Aurora 88s, a women’s roller derby league. According to spokesman Shawn Gade, the 88s split off from another league, the DuPage Derby Dames, last February, and immediately began organizing its own teams and bouts. (That’s what they’re called—not games, bouts.)
The league’s first public bout was held on September 11 of last year. On Sunday, they will play their fifth bout of the season—the Divas de Las Muertas against the Hard Core Corruption—and in June, they’ll move into their first championship. And after that, the 88s hit the road, facing off against other leagues.
For decades, roller derby was more of a theatrical performance than a sport. But while the current revival has kept some of the old roller derby traditions—costumes and skater names among them—the focus is on athletic competition. Roller derby players are fast, agile, and able to take a full-force collision and get back up, unfazed.
The 88s have attracted a wide range of players with different backgrounds. (And ages—the range is 18 to 45, Gade said.) Some, like Bain, have been skating for their entire lives—Bain jokes that she “came out of the womb” in skates. And some, like Montgomery’s Katie Corlas (who goes by Insani T Plea), had never skated in their lives before joining up with the league.
Corlas, 26, a mental health counselor, was introduced to roller derby through a fellow 88. She said her first thought, after her first time on the track, was, “I’ve never used these muscles before.” While she likes the physical challenge, she said she’s drawn to the mental part of the game, the strategy.
Novice players like Corlas look up to Bain, who has been playing roller derby for years. In 2007, she joined up with Chicago team the Windy City Rollers, who play at the UIC Pavilion. She joined the 88s after moving to the suburbs, and serves not only as a team captain but as a coach.
Derby used to be a “secret sport,” she said, even in Chicago. But the current craze, spurred on by the 2009 Drew Barrymore-directed film Whip It, has been “cool to see,” she said.
Derby, Bain said, has given her the confidence to come out of her shell. While Ivy Sedation is still very much her, she said, there’s a certain anonymity there that allows her to explore a more competitive part of herself. And the 88s, she said, are like a big family, and being part of it has introduced her to people she might never have met otherwise.
“It’s an aggressive sport, but when we come off the track, we love each other and care about each other,” she said. “We’re all friends.”
The 88s are still in their first season, but bouts regularly draw between 350 and 450 people, Gade said, and the league has been fielding offers to play in other parts of the state. Word is spreading, he said, and new skaters are looking to join all the time.
And Gade agrees that roller derby builds confidence, and brings people together.
“It’s definitely a sisterhood for them, and fun for all of us,” he said.
A crash course in roller derby
A roller derby bout consists of two 30-minute halves, played out in “jams” of up to two minutes each. There are five members of each team on the track at any one time. One of them is the jammer, and she wears a helmet with a star. The jammer’s job is to lap the players on the other team, as many times as possible. They get a point for each player they pass.
The remaining players are called the “pack,” and they consist of one “pivot” and three “blockers.” Their job is to make sure their team’s jammer can get through the other team’s pack, while at the same time blocking the opposing team’s jammer. They’re allowed to block from the side (not from the back), and collisions are allowed and expected.
The jammer can, if she’s in the lead, call off the jam at any time by tapping her hips. The team with the most points at the end of the bout wins. (There’s more, much more—check out this glossary of roller derby terms for more.)