October 10, 2011

Where Girls Become Roller Girls - Vernon, Conn.

Break out your skates, ladies.
Back in the day, roller skating was one of my favorite activities - not only as a kid, when I attended birthday parties for my elementary school friends, but even as an adult, when I descended upon The Roxy with all kinds of characters for late-night Roller-Skating Wednesdays when I lived in New York City for a time. Sniff.

Unbeknownst to me, roller skating rinks actually still exist in Connecticut. And better yet, roller derby.

So when I heard through a fabulous Twitter follower that nearby Vernon, Conn.'s Ron-A-Roll hosts twice-a-week practices for the Hartford Area's Roller Derby (otherwise known as H.A.R.D.), I could not wait to pull on my colorful knee-high socks and roll on up to the rink.

Today's Stefcations Highlights:
  • What You'll Find: Roller skating! Need I say more?
  • Where You'll Find it: Ron-A-Roll in Vernon, Conn.
  • When to Go: If you're interested in the roller derby league, stop by Sunday nights or Monday nights (practice typically runs from 5-7 p.m. and 6:30-8:30 p.m., respectively). If you just wanna skate, Ron-A-Roll's schedule is available here. (I will so see you there.)
  • Other Info: Ladies only, of course, and you must be at least 21 years old. Bring a skateboard-style helmet and mouthguard (You can borrow pads and skates for your first time if you don't have your own). No experience needed, though it seems you do need some semblance of athleticism to be a contributing member of the team. 
  • For the guys: H.A.R.D. is looking for referees (male or female, actually), if you're interested!

I'd hoped to rope in a few of my gal pals for the tryouts. No dice. My 30-something friends appear to have better sense than I. And OK, perhaps I am too old for this kind of thing. Sigh. So, I instead opted to go check things out from the safety of the rinkside with an obliging friend who, like me, was considering getting in on the action.

This isn't your average roller skating, people.
These Roller Girls mean business.

Ron-A-Roll is much like the roller skating rink I remember from my heyday - dark, old-school, with the vintage vending machines, snack bar, and racks of worn, nude-colored roller skates for rental. Then count in the smooth hardwood rink, the colorful lights, the pumping music (everything from Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" to Wreckx-N-Effect's "Rumpshaker"), and - last but not least - the ever-so-fabulous dangling disco ball. It was all I could do not to steal someone's skates and join the pack.

Can't you feel the nostalgia??
Everyone here for roller derby, though, is clearly in it to win it. Veterans show up with their own set of gear - from skates complete with wheels specially made for the indoor rink to their skateboard-style helmet, knee and elbow pads, and the requisite mouthguard. (Should you be interested in checking things out for yourself, no worries - you can borrow skates and pads for your first time.)

Also popular? Those totally cool knee-high socks. What better reason for breaking out the 10 super fabulous pairs that I own?!

Best thing of all, though, were the ladies themselves. Several of them came over and introduced themselves, wanted to know whether we were new and interested in joining. When I told them them I was holding off for fear of being too old, one of them - a super fit blonde - told me she was 46. No way she looked it. I later witnessed that same Roller Girl sailing effortlessly around the rink - backwards. Um, totally badass.

And P.S., turns out there aren't really tryouts, per se. Essentially, there are different levels of teams - kind of like JV and varsity - based on experience, talent, and good attendance. For the newbies, you just have to show up and be willing to learn. (And perhaps willing to sustain a few bruises, too.)

Practice is led by a longtime Roller Girl known as Diesel (who reportedly used to be part of a league in Boston until she moved to Connecticut and started H.A.R.D.). The session I observed started out with some warm-up laps, followed by stretching exercises, situps and pushups, a 1-minute plank, and then a series of drills. Veterans pair up with any new gals for multiple laps around the rink, to practice pushing and pulling each other, weaving around one another, and hip-checking one another.

The "Game" 
For starters, do not refer to the competitions as "games" - totally not the proper lingo, as I quickly learned. Bouting season, as it's called, runs from April to October, although in addition to the bouts, it sounds like the players get together for other gatherings as well. (Hartford's Hooker Day Parade, this Saturday, is one of them.)

As for the rules, I'm still not entirely clear on those. Essentially, each team competing in a bout has a player designated as the "jammer." For the team to score, the jammer must complete a lap around members of the opposing team (avoiding, of course, any attempts to knock her down). If you'd like at least a primer, here's one that may be helpful.

Watching these ladies fly around the rink really got me pumped up to get back into roller skating - although for now, let's just say that I may have chickened out of the derby experience. Still, that's no reason why I can't a) revisit my roller-skating days, and b) go check out an upcoming roller derby bout. And of course, there's c) always time to watch Whip It yet again.

Either way, it looks like a serious (but fun) workout and a great chance to meet some awesome new people.  For more info, find H.A.R.D. on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/HartfordAreaRollerDerby


  1. Super fun! I'd love to check this out...as a spectator for now. I am uncoordinated on my own two feet. Adding wheels to the mix could be deadly.

  2. Awesome! I will totally join you for a bout!

  3. I love Roller Derby! I was also excited to find out we had teams right here in CT. And I should clarify, I'm also a spectator. I'm too wimpy to try out (also, you should see me on skates... or maybe not! >_<)

  4. @Sami - Me too! I *do* recommend just hanging at Ron-a-Roll for some adult free skate, though - I went last Friday, and it was such a good time. And that way you're just having fun and not competing. :D