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CCU Atheneum: Robin Skordensky, left, and Michelle Lewis sandwich a competitor. Photo by Louis Keiner.
Robin Skordensky, left, and Michelle Lewis sandwich a competitor. Photo by Louis Keiner.

Rollergirls unleash their alter egos

by Ashley Morris
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Teresa Burns, CCU associate professor of physics/director of core curriculum, stands 4 feet, 10 inches tall in her tiny office, drops her shoulders, squats like a wall and suddenly becomes a blocker for the Palmetto State Rollergirls (PSRG).

“It’s all about low center of gravity,” she says. “That’s what’s cool – I’m just as valuable as the tall girls!”

Think you can pigeonhole the typical rollergirl? Think again. The PSRG roster of 25 is a motley crew of CCU students, staff and professors with doctorates, business professionals and those in the restaurant industry; women from 18 to 40-something, 5 to 6 feet tall, athletes and nonathletes. 

But they all have in common a commitment to the camaraderie and community that is roller derby, the fastest-growing sport in the U.S. The rebirth of the Texas sport in 2004 has since spawned 400 leagues and 10,000 female skaters participating in the U.S., but it’s also big in the UK and Australia.

“It’s one of the few team sports for women outside of high school,” says Burns, aka “Rockaway Beatch” on the track. “We keep it clean. It’s not all about fishnets and short skirts; it’s about athleticism and being role models.”

PSRG was incorporated as a nonprofit in September 2006 (the first league in the state). The league now competes in bouts against other leagues from across the Carolinas, following the rules and regulations of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. PSRG prides itself on “being run by the skaters and for the skaters – always.”

Each bout is associated with a local charity; PSRG donates ticket proceeds and raffles to groups like Caring in our Lifetime and the Surfrider Foundation. They even raised several thousand dollars in “Derby for Herby” for a teammate’s boyfriend, Herb Newcomb, who had a brain infection.

The rollergirls, however, don’t go soft on the track. Points are scored in two 30-minute periods, broken down into two-minute jams. The jammer (usually the team’s tallest) jockeys her way on eight wheels through four blockers. At the same time, the other team’s blockers try to push a path open for their jammer. It’s the only sport with offense and defense merging simultaneously. 

“Everything is completely real out there – no fake fights and no fake injuries,” says Shannon Stewart, professor in rhetoric and composition. 

Stewart, or “Tart of Darkness” (a spin on Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”), should know. She broke her elbow in eight places. It has since been fixed, she calculates, with “two pins, a bunch of wire, two plates, 15 screws, 35 staples, and three and a half months of rehab.” She now sticks to refereeing the bouts for PSRG and other leagues and going to practice instead of jamming.

“I still love to skate, like most kids do from the ’70s and ’80s,” she says. “I do so much academic work and intense studying during the day, so when I’m out there on the track, it’s nice not to think about anything else.”

She and fellow doctorate professor Burns have even made scholarly presentations about their roller derby experiences at academic conferences. Burns once discussed how the right trajectory in hitting could be an advantage for any height, and Stewart talked about how each roller derby name describes a skater’s alternate ego.

And that’s just what PSRG president Michelle Lewis, or “Piranha Mama,” likes about her derby outlet. “It enables me to be the person I was before I was married and had kids – a little younger, a little wilder,” she says.

Lewis, who has been the circulations supervisor at Kimbel Library for the past 10 years, says it’s also been incredible for her health. “Does it have physical risks? Yes, I started this when I was 45,” she says, “and I was also prescribed blood pressure medicine at the time I started, but never had to take it since skating.”

She does admit, however, that the boot camp PSRG is hosting for members and recruits through Feb. 10 has taken a toll on the body. The women have three on-skate practices and three off-skate practices each week. When they’re not on the track, they’re at Sports Doctors Inc. in Myrtle Beach, cross-training under the experienced eye of former Chanticleer track star and Olympic shot-putter Amber Campbell.

Not only are CCU faculty members training and competing for PSRG, but they’re volunteering as referees, time takers and penalty trackers. 

Louis Keiner, chair and associate professor of chemistry and physics, is team photographer and “technology guy,” running the league’s website, programming the scoreboards and maintaining the online financial system. He also helps to lay down the sport court tile for the oval track. “As a man in this sport, I’m very much in a support role, but the PSRG and the other people in roller derby are such amazing people that it’s fun, and I am more than happy to support in any way I can,” says Keiner, aka “A Boy Named Tsunami.”

His wife, Lesley (“Punk Blocker”) Etherson, coaches the women of PSRG. “Working with Lesley on this is great,” says Keiner. “It allows us to do something together that we both think is great. We also travel around the Carolinas to other bouts on weekends. We usually see about 40 per year. She referees for other teams, and I take photos for them as well.”

It’s that kind of passion for PSRG that will have them jamming for years to come. The women must double as their own production, advertising and merchandising staff, and pay to play. Lewis says the boot camp has attracted potential skaters in such droves that she’s hoping there may be enough skaters to divide into a PSRG A and B league.

May 14 is the next big event, an invitational for area leagues in the Carolinas, Georgia and Virginia. A home schedule is still in the process of being organized, since PSRG moved their stompin’ grounds this season to the Fun Warehouse on Dick Pond Road in Myrtle Beach. “All of our bouts last year were held at the North Myrtle Beach Recreation Center, and we pretty much maxed out their capacity with 300 spectators,” says Lewis. “This year, we’ll bout at the Fun Warehouse, which has a much higher capacity and we hope to sell it out.”

For schedule updates and additional information, visit www.palmettostaterollergirls.com.

 

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