OSWEGO, NY – By day, they may look like any other student walking across the SUNY Oswego campus.
At night, they trade their books for skates, pads and helmets as members of the Oz Roller Girls derby team.
Students Emma Draper, Laurie Edwards, Katherine Hansen, Lindi Himes and Jean Smyth study different subjects and come from various backgrounds, but they constitute a key part of the Oz Roller Girls, whose home debut as a flat-track derby team comes April 23 vs. the Crown City Royal Pains at Oswego’s Crisafulli Rink.
They represent part of the wide tapestry that is the community team, whose professions range from business owner to manager, accountant to farmer.
“I joined roller derby because I needed an outlet; something that was physical and helped me balance life stressors,” said Draper, a psychology major from Oswego set to graduate in December, who goes by the name Short Fuze on the track. “I am glad that I joined because not only have I found a sport that I am completely in love with, but I have come to know some of the best and most kindhearted people. I have gained an entire roomful of sisters, and could not be closer to them.”
Graduate technology education major Edwards, also known as Eddie Krueger, joined for the athletic challenge after participating in sports during her undergraduate years at SUNY Oswego and growing up in Saratoga Springs.
“The athleticism required for this sport is out of this world,” Edwards said. “It really has been a challenge for me to become even proficient and successful in this sport, but I am in the best shape of my life.”
Smyth, an undeclared freshman from Poughkeepsie with the track name Hot Donna, learned about the team when visiting the Wicked Evil Skate Merch shop, owned by league founder Victoria Usherwood Gailinas.
“I may not be particularly good or observant or confident but knowing my team has my back no matter what is a great feeling,” said Smyth, who also appreciates the “no drama” rule the league has. “I’ve been on plenty of all-girl teams from soccer to crew and the petty drama can be practically unbearable.”
Derby is a family affair for junior business administration major Himes of Oswego, who goes by Crushed Red Pepper, as her sister and cousin were already on the Oz Roller Girls.
“It’s amazing!” Himes said. “You meet a bunch of great people and it’s an enjoyable sport. Everyone gets along and it’s just all-around fantastic.”
Hansen, a non-traditional student and mother, has always been drawn to the sport.
“It’s something I always wished I would have the opportunity to do and when I heard it came to Oswego I knew I would have to get in on it,” said the senior philosophy-psychology major from Palermo also known as Kannonball Kat-astrophe. “It took some time for me to find the courage to show up and meet new people, learn how to skate, etc., but I decided that I didn’t want to look back on my life with regrets, wishing I had done this, so I got over my fear and here I am.”
Time management proves a bit of a challenge, but Draper has been able to schedule her classes in the day to make room for derby and work at night.
“It has not been without its frustrations and stress, but I am thankful that I am not the only girl on the team that willingly plans her life around derby,” Draper said. “Joining this team is one of the best things that I have ever done, and it is an experience that I will never forget.”
Edwards said, “good time management skills and Google Calendar” have helped her balance derby, school, work, her job search and the rest of her life.
But “the community and camaraderie on my team” has made it worth it, she said. “Everyone in the league was just so welcoming and accepting, it was very easy feel at home.”
Balancing time with the “extended family” of other skaters, coaches, referees and volunteers with demands of motherhood and classes is less challenging than Hansen initially feared.
“I felt guilty at first about the time that derby took away from my family and school work, but … it has made me a better mom and student because of it,” Hansen said. “I now have an outlet for the everyday stressors that we all experience. I feel healthier, mind, body and soul all thanks to this sport. Plus, my kids think it’s pretty cool they have a ‘derby mommy.'”
For the Oz Roller Girls’ April 23 home opener, doors open at 5 p.m., with the bout beginning at 6 p.m.
As part of the organization’s commitment to give back to the community, part of the proceeds from the bout will benefit the local Veterans Administration Outreach Clinic.
For tickets (including discount presale general admission $6 seats), information or to learn more about participating or volunteering, visit www.ozrollergirls.com