Sunday, November 1, 2015

A good skate

The conversation started off innocently enough.

Sandy Andrews, my colleague at NewBridge Bank (where I work part time) and I were just having a casual little chit chat when it came out that I had been a sports writer for The Dispatch for more than 30 years.

"Oh," she said happily, "do you know anything about roller derby?"

Sandy Andrews is a pleasant, mild-mannered banker during the week...
Uh-oh, I thought to myself. Where is this going? Usually, I'm cornered by soccer moms who want a little extra coverage for their undeniably precocious star athletes. So I prepared myself to hear Sandy go on and on about one of her kids participating in yet another low-impact, non-mainstream sport.

"Ummm, maybe," I answered, with visions of Raquel Welch in the 1972 flick "Kansas City Bomber" flashing through my head. "Why?"

"Well," said Andrews, "I play derby."

Huh? I thought I heard her say that she skated in roller derby, but that just couldn't be. Sandy is built like a No. 2 pencil and has the pleasant, unassuming demeanor of, well, a Sunday school teacher. The roller derby I knew from watching it on TV back in the 1960s was raucous, violent and contrived. It just didn't jibe.

"Whut?" I said, and the conversation took a decidedly different turn.
 •   •   •
Andrews, a 42-year-old mom who works at the bank's call center in Lexington, said her children — Aeda, Christopher and Jacob — got interested in roller skating a while back, so she took them to a local rink. Things simply rolled from there, so to speak.

...and jammer Jaisy Juke for Greensboro Roller Derby on weekends. *
"They got interested in speed skating and they wanted me to join them," said Andrews. "So about a year ago, we started speed skating every Saturday. I liked it so much I wanted to find out what else I could do with skating."

 A bell went off in her head. A few years previously, a friend of hers from high school had participated in roller derby and had posted some pictures of herself on Facebook. Andrews thought it was interesting, but never in a million years would she do it. "It looked like a painful and wild sport," said Andrews.

Well, yeah.

But by this time, Andrews was more than a little curious. She did some research and found out that there was a roller derby team in Winston-Salem, originally the Camel City Thrashers. She called, and they invited her to watch — or, if she wanted, to participate in a practice. The only requirement was that she be over 18 years old.

"I went to a practice and fell in love with it," said Andrews. "And I've been hooked ever since."
•   •   •
There's a sidebar story running parallel to all of this.

About five or six years ago, Andrews contracted Lyme Disease through the bite of a deer tick. It changed her life.

"It affected me in every way — neurologically, mentally, physically, emotionally," said Andrews. "It was a very hard struggle getting over that. I couldn't walk straight, I couldn't hold a coffee cup. I couldn't control my muscles and I had tingling all over. I had all kinds of issues."

Fortunately, she's been able to treat the malaise with medication.

"Even though I still have a little pain, I've gotten much better," said Andrews. "I control that through exercise and diet. And skating actually makes me feel better. It's strengthened the joints in my knees and hips, and I don't have as much pain as I used to."

Andrews doesn't want to play up the Lyme Disease aspect of her life, other than to show that it's possible to wrestle against adversity with dedication and determination.

 "I've overcome this illness," noted Andrews. "There's some things I still can't do — running bothers me — but I can skate. Derby is a very intense athletic sport. I can say that I've overcome this disease, I'm strong and I'm an athlete."

You cannot mistake the pride in her voice for anything else.
•   •   •
Several Thrashers, including Andrews, eventually joined the Greensboro Roller Derby (see here), which competes in the Women's Flat Track Derby Association. They currently hold their bouts (not matches, meets or games) in the Greensboro Coliseum annex.

Andrews — who took the name Jaisy Juke (in recognition of her childhood TV idol Daisy Duke) as her derby alter ego — became a jammer for her team, the Elm Street Nightmares.

Flat tracks tend to slow the action down a bit, as opposed to the banked wooden tracks that Raquel Welch bombed her way around. It's like the difference between NASCAR's flat Bowman Gray Stadium and the high-banked Charlotte Motor Speedway, and all the physics that that implies regarding speed and momentum. But the roller derby flat tracks are usually concrete surfaces, like those in coliseum annexes, which makes taking a spill a little more problematical.

"I've never been hurt," said Andrews, "except for a few bumps and bruises."

And the near black eye that is just now starting to fade.
•   •   •
A quick derby primer: Each team has five skaters on a flat oblong track that is approximately the length of a hockey rink. That's 10 people crowded together in helmets, elbow- and kneepads, trying to get their jammers (one designated player per team) through a wall of their opponent's blockers. Points are awarded when a jammer breaks through after she's completed her first lap.

"We're playing offense and defense at the same time," said Andrews. "It's kind of like football on roller skates. And it's for real. It's legitimate. There's nothing contrived about it.

"The first time I ever broke through as a jammer it was such an adrenalin rush," and Andrews. "I really love doing this."

So does her husband, Chris. And, of course, her kids. "They really support me with this," said Andrews, who practices two or three times a week. "I'm really having a lot of fun."

Wow. Amazing. And I know one thing for sure: the next time Sandy wants to tell me something, I'm paying close attention. I'll be jammed if I ever look at a No. 2 pencil the same way again.

(A brief example of flat track roller derby is in the video below. It does not depict Andrews' team): 

*Photo courtesy of Jill and Mike McClanahan, Frayed Edge Concepts, LLC.

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