- Associated Press - Monday, May 22, 2017

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - Engineer Heather Barron deals mostly with men on workdays, but said she finds balance in her free time skating on the flat track with other Connecticut roller derby queens.

One of several derby leagues in the state, the teams draw skaters from far and wide, with many traveling from the Greater New Haven and Waterbury regions, and as far as Hartford.

“It’s just so much fun,” said Barron, who was athletic but not much of a skater. “Once you join, people joke around that roller derby becomes your life … and it’s true.”

Making new friends, having fun skating together while working out at the same time makes the time pass quickly, and what could be better when it comes to time spent in a sweaty workout, Barron said.

The Daughters of the American Derby Revolution, the CT RollerGirls, a skater-owned, skater-run organization, held a season opener doubleheader in Trumbull recently, with CTRG winning their bouts, players said.

The league leans toward a more athletic version of roller derby, even as some skaters maintain colorful, textured derby fashions, such as fishnet stockings, tutus or short shorts.

Aside from compression shorts and other athletic wear, some skaters may lean toward hard-core punk or rock ‘n’ roll styles, sometimes with a bit of goth mixed in. Body art, piercings and even neon hair offer colorful imagery for fans.

Fans also can see the skaters’ derby names, which include “Your Mom,” ”Mags” and “Kill-ty Pleasure,” across their shoulders.

Roller derby “is the best and hardest thing I’ve ever done,” said Nolan Smith of New Haven. Also known as “Your Mom” - just a name she found funny - Smith can’t determine how many misdirected texts are received intended for mothers of skaters, she said.

All that’s needed to try out for the roller derby are a good attitude, basic athletic skills and trainability - the most important component, organizers said. Some skating background is helpful, but it’s most important that one can take a fall, with safety gear such as a helmet, knee, wrist and elbow guards, and a mouthpiece.

Derby skaters propel themselves on a flat track, using various strategies to play fast or slow, continuously skating, jumping and moving on quad skates. Skaters typically focus on offensive and defensive strategies during bouts, often concurrently. Players help their “jammer” to score while creating obstacles to stop the other team’s jammer from earning points.

The game moves at various paces during two-minute jams within two 30-minute periods that comprise a bout. As many as a half-dozen officials monitor the action.

Play can get rough and it’s not uncommon to see bruises, sprains, broken bones and even concussions come along with the territory. To be safe, EMTs are on-site during bouts.

The cost to get started may run a few hundred dollars since good equipment does not come cheap, said Barron, who invested $600 for professional skates. Starter skates can be had for much less, she added.

Margaret Vieira of Hamden, also known as “Mags,” spends her days teaching English as a second language in New Haven Public Schools.

The former competitive figure ice skater turned figure roller skater in Wallingford years ago.

“I tell everybody I know to do it,” said the team captain of the B team. Vieira had little experience to start, and completed a condensed rookie program, followed by scrimmages in April before she joined the travel team in May.

Roller derby has boosted her self-confidence, courtesy of the female camaraderie, she noted.

“As a whole, being a part has really helped me get stronger, I have more patience,” said Vieira, who wears black fishnet stockings during the bouts.

Smith - “Your Mom” - has competed since 2009 and is on the All Stars team. The league has two travel teams and three home teams playing intra-league bouts.

With its ranks swelling to about 60 members, the program is as big as it’s ever been, said Smith, a member of the Bone Crusher team, the reigning champions.

Skaters are guaranteed the element of chaos always during competition, according to Smith.

“We always need the ability to make a decision quickly and commit as a group,” she said.

The women enjoy laughter and many silly inside jokes. “You fall a lot and see each other in compromising positions,” she said with a chuckle.

A new round of Junior Roller Derby Bootcamp started April 23 and runs through the end of June at Roller Magic in Waterbury.

Kids come from all over state, some with incredible skating skills, Smith said.

“If anyone is considering joining, but think it might be too hard, they are too old, too fat, too skinny - definitely come try out,” said Smith, who met her wife and best friend through the league. Tryouts are held twice a year and all encouraged to try out. Aside from skaters, there is a need for officials, and non-skating official positions, all trained by the league.

Founded in 2006, CTRG is the top Women’s Flat Track Derby Association league in the state.

CTRG fosters “community, sportswomanship and athleticism, serving as role models to girls of all ages through our strength, health, and diversity to instill a sense of family, loyalty, hard work, and competitiveness in all of our skaters,” its website says.

“It’s a diverse, welcoming group,” said Smith. “I’m so happy I tried out.”

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Online:

http://bit.ly/2qO7HhG

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For more information: The Middletown Press, www.middletownpress.com

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