Hell on Wheels

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Women of East Lansing Roller Derby takes their sport seriously

So the weekend arrives and you’ve finally got some free time. You could go see a movie, spending an hour or two while the plot develops on the screen.

If you choose, you could finally tackle that yard work or DIY project you’ve been too busy to finish.

Or you could do the cool thing – go to a roller derby bout and watch as the talented and athletic women of East Lansing Roller Derby (ELRD) do their thing.

Formed in 2010 as the Mitten Mavens, founders jumped on the flat-track roller derby bandwagon started by the Texas Rollergirls in 2003. By 2010 – the year the East Lansing squad was established – there were more than 450 flat-track roller derby leagues worldwide, according to the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.

Organizers used social media to recruit women interested in starting an East Lansing-area team, said Ali Jahr, president of ELRD, who competes under the pseudonym “Jahrmageddon.”

“I started with the organization in late June of 2011,” Jahr explained. “I was in leadership in 2014 when our league decided to do a complete branding overhaul and focus on shifting the league’s culture, look and message.”

Currently carrying a roster of 29 skating members, the team was not always fortunate to have a deep bench.

“Our organization at one point had seven skating members, so we’ve seen tough times,” she said. “We know what it’s like to struggle. We’ve been through it and learned from it.”

Jahr explained that ELRD is in constant recruiting mode, bringing in prospective players of all skill levels to learn the game. In fact, even if someone interested in participating has not been on roller skates since elementary school – if at all – they are welcomed into the fold.

“We really do accept anyone, regardless of their current athletic ability or experience skating,” Jahr said. “Our organization is very proud to offer adult women an outlet to learn or relearn the incredible athleticism that their bodies are capable of. Honestly, 75% of our current skaters started this sport with none to very little skating experience.”

While having logged time on skates or being earlier involved in sports will help new members pick up on the needed skills set, it isn’t a requirement. “Twice a year we offer a six- to eight-week basic skills boot camp both during the winter and summer,” Jahr explained. “During this time our newest recruits practice skills and build up endurance so they can become safer roller derby skaters.”

Those who are unable to attend a boot camp can still learn the ropes during the team’s regularly scheduled practices.

At its conception, ELRD did not have a united vision on how to form the team, so two teams were established, the A-level Mitten Mavens and the Broadbarians, which was the developmental team where skills were refined. Both teams still exist, but under a united banner.

“Today, you will no longer see the skull-with-pigtails logo from the league’s inception, but instead the bold block letters of ‘East Lansing Roller Derby’ to more clearly connect with our home base roots or our current bouting and practice location,” Jahr said,

When asked what she thinks team members get out of the sport – a sense of accomplishment, exercise or a chance to blow off steam, Jahr enthusiastically said “most definitely all of the above.”

“If you were to ask each teammate what their favorite thing about roller derby was, you would get a lot of similar answers, but ultimately the focus for each person is different,” she explained.

The roller derby season runs from March to October and features six home bouts and six road bouts.

At the end of the year, the organization participates in Michigan’s Mitten Kitten Tournament. This year it will be hosted here in Lansing at the Summit, Jahr said.

For the current schedule, visit eastlansingrollerderby.com/new-events.


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