When 35-year-old Amy Lopez heads out for a night with the girls, odds are she isn't driving to the nearest Starbucks for a venti latte and some juicy gossip. Instead, you'll find her sporting roller skates, fishnet stockings and colorful knee socks — and knocking her friends to the floor of a concrete skating rink.
Lopez, a full time art teacher at Lawrence's Parthum Elementary School, is a veteran of New Hampshire Roller Derby (NHRD, also known as Skate Free or Die) — an organization that got rolling in 2007 and is now 50-plus members strong.
Saturday, NHRD wraps up an undefeated 2009 home season with a bout against the Garden State Rollergirls of New Jersey.
"I came home one day and the newspaper was on my doorstep, and I saw that New Hampshire was starting a league and were doing open skates at Roller Kingdom (a rink in Tyngsboro)," said Lopez of her initiation. "I went to the next open skate and introduced myself and that was that."
Though some friends and family members thought she was joking when she first told them of her new hard-hitting activity, two years later Lopez spends between eight and 18 hours a week practicing and competing with her friends and teammates.
"You immediately have 50 friends you'd never thought you'd have, and they're like family," Lopez said. "Everybody's background is different but you have this one thing in common."
The "girls" of Skate Free or Die range in age from 20-somethings to 40-somethings and hail from Nashua, Salem, Manchester, Lowell, and other cities and towns in Southern New Hampshire and northern Massachusetts.
There are mothers, engineers, college students, social workers, nurses, and yes, art teachers. And while they may look and act the part of their respective roles by day, they take on a whole new persona when it's time to skate. Business attire makes way for helmets and knee pads, and names like Mary and Sue are traded for derby names such as Ivanna B. Vicious and May B. Knotty.
"You get to pick and be that alter ego," said Alison Trela, 28, of Nashua, who goes by Dee Stortion when her skates are laced. "On the track they can be a bad girl, when they can't at work, or they can be a crowd favorite, where they have to be super serious in their professional life. It's kind of like being a superhero, where by day you are mild mannered and by night you get to dress up and be this other person."
Trela, NHRD team captain, runs an online derby store called Bruised Boutique, where she sells everything from skates to protective gear to knee socks to tutus. A retail store by the same name will open in September in Nashua, N.H. She says she thinks the style of roller derby is in line with today's counter-culture influenced fashions and is part of its appeal.
Whatever the draw — fashion, fitness, friendship or good old-fashioned entertainment — it is catching on, and fast. Roller derby is in the midst of a major resurgence, and all you have to do is a cursory Internet search to find out just how popular it is getting.
Try Googling "roller derby" and you'll see roller derby stories on CNN.com and ESPN.com, a list of teams from Los Angeles, Calif., to Providence, R.I., and the Web site for the Women's Flat Track Derby Association, derby's official governing body since 2004.
For a sport that essentially died out in the 1970s, that's a pretty major resurrection.
Most leagues are not-for-profit institutions and NHRD is no different. In fact, the team works with area charities such as the New Hampshire Food Bank, which often set up booths at home games.
Players do not get paid — they participate because they love what they are doing.
"It's so easily accessible and it's such a fun sport," said Trela. "Anybody can do it."
Rachel Chandler (or Empress Explosiva), 38, an Andover native who now lives in Lowell, said NHRD has a "come one, come all" attitude that is a big draw for potential rollergirls. Though many of her teammates are into tattoos and body piercings, she said there are just as many who are not. And while she puts in nine hours a week just in practice time alone, it's not a requirement by any stretch.
"There are people who just had babies who want to get out and do something and meet people, and there's a spot for that person," said Chandler.
Not to be left out, Hollywood has taken notice of the trend, in the form of a film starring Drew Barrymore and Ellen Page. Due out in October, "Whip It" tells the story of a young woman (Page) from Bodeen, Texas, who leaves behind a life of beauty pageants to join a roller derby team from Austin, Texas, known as the Hurl Scouts.
The trailer, which can be seen at www.foxsearchlight.com/whipit/ depicts a game chock full of fists and elbows, which is not how the sport is really played anymore, according Trela, one of the league's founders.
That's not to say the game doesn't involve some contact — bruises, breaks and bumps are fairly commonplace. Though the roller derby of the '70s was mostly staged (like pro-wrestling) and full of foul play, today's bouts are all about athletic skill mixed with a dose of hockey-style physicality.
"There's no elbows, no tripping, no punching," she said. "It's family friendly, so we do have a lot of kids there. But it's not like 'The Wiggles.'"
If you go What: Skate Free or Die roller derby bout When: Saturday, Aug. 29. Doors open at 5 p.m. Derby starts at 6 p.m. Where: JFK Coliseum, 303 Beech St., Manchester, N.H. How: Tickets are $10 at the door or $8 in advance at www.nhrollerderby.com The skaters will also host a party and meet-and-greet immediately following the bout at Stadium Ten Pin, located at 216 Maple St., Manchester, N..H, just steps from JFK Coliseum. All are welcome to attend.
NHRD will hold a canned food drive in conjunction with the bout to benefit the New Hampshire Food Bank. Attendees who bring a canned food item for will get $1 off of admission at the door. Those who purchase tickets in advance and bring a canned food item will receive a $1 refund at the door.
How roller derby works:
Roller derby is a competitive sport.
Two teams compete against each other for points.
Each team sends five skaters onto the track: a jammer, a pivot, and three blockers.
The two pivots line up on the starting line with the blockers behind them. The two jammers line up 33 feet behind the starting line.
A referee blows the whistle, the pivots and blockers start skating, the whistle blows again, the jammers start skating and the game is on.
The jammers have to skate through the pack of pivots and blockers, then skate a lap in front of them. Once they lap the pack, they can start scoring points.
Jammers score points by passing skaters from the other team. Blockers try to stop the other team's jammer and get their own jammer through the pack so she can score as many points as possible.
For more detailed rules, visit http://wftda.com/rules.html.
Roller Derby Web sites
www.nhrollerderby.com - Online home of New Hampshire Roller Derby/Skate Free or Die
www.wftda.com/ - official web site of the Women's Flat Track Derby Association
www.twoevils.org/rollergirls/ - a list of EVERY rollergirl name in existence
www.bruisedboutique.com/ - where area rollergirls buy their stuff
www.foxsearchlight.com/whipit/- Official website for the Fox Searchlight film "Whip It."
Names of the game
It's considered a rite of passage to choose a rollergirl name, and if you're a member of NHRD, you can't even do so until you've attended eight practices.
And even after you've picked one, it has to be cleared through the International Rollergirls' Master Roster, because no two rollergirls can share the same name ever.
Here are some of the creative monikers of New Hampshire Roller Derby's "A" Team:
Ivanna B. Vicious
Make Out Bandit
May B. Knotty
Melanie M. Falcon
Sin D. Lap-her