FCPS teachers Wendy Turner and Robin Howe are members of the Rollergirls of Central Kentucky (ROCK).
By Tammy Lane
Fayette County Public Schools
Some teachers enjoy gardening as a hobby; others crochet or play tennis. “Whirl Wendy” Turner and “Robin Souls” Howe prefer roller derby.
“When you’re on the track, you get to be someone else – a derby superhero for an hour. It’s a huge part of who I am now,” said Turner, who teaches English at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School.
Both cited a dearth of team recreational options for women. Howe, a runner who moved here from Michigan three years ago, found the ideal outlet with the Rollergirls of Central Kentucky (ROCK).
“The camaraderie is nothing like I’ve ever seen before. You fall in love with the sport,” said Howe, a science teacher at Edythe J. Hayes Middle School.
Previously, Turner’s 8-year-old twins provided most of her workout. That changed after she attended a ROCK bout, saw a recruitment flier and went to check it out.
“I thought to myself, ‘I really want to do something that’s just for me.’ I’m the wife, I’m the mom, I’m the teacher, but I felt like something was missing.
“When you see them play, you don’t know their back stories. They just look like a bunch of hard-core, athletic women. You think ‘I could never be one of them,’” said Turner, who made the softball team back in high school. “But at the meetings, they don’t have on all that gear and they don’t have on their ‘mean’ faces. They’re just like everyone else.”
The group, ranging in age from 20s to 50s, includes nurses, professors and a lot of other moms.
“They all wanted to have a chance to be strong and be physical and play with a team, so I was hooked,” recalled Turner, who joined ROCK last fall. “I’ve gained a whole family. These women are amazing – driven and focused – and have each other’s back.”
She likened ROCK to the Lexington Legends, who play in a single-A baseball league. An apprentice team for now, ROCK aspires to move up the ranks in the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.
The Rollergirls practice in a warehouse behind West Sixth Brewery. Along one end is a line of posters featuring teammates like Angel O’Payne, Junk Drawer, Rainbow Smite and Sugar Shock. Each woman has a sort of locker space along the far wall where they lace up their skates and pull on kneepads and helmets. Blue and orange tape marks off the flat, oval track.
'Robin Souls' and 'Whirl Wendy' say roller derby is a great stress reliever.
One recent evening, the warm-up circuit alternated sprints, crunches, knee-drop lunges, push-ups and endurance laps. Later, the women practiced jams like in competition. Occasionally, someone pulled away to stretch out a cramp or ice down a sore knee.
“I fractured a rib (one time) and I got back out there two weeks later. I couldn’t stand to be off skates,” Turner added.
ROCK has about 30 members Nicholasville; a bout roster is limited to 14 with two extras on the bench. The women must pass written and physical tests to make the cut, and the coaches and team captains decide who’s ready to play.
“Typically you start out as a blocker because that’s the best way to learn the rules. As you practice, you understand what being a jammer is. I’m a utility player,” said Howe, a veteran who tries to lead by example.
“The big thing is it’s offense and defense simultaneously, so when you’re on the track, you’re doing both,” Turner noted. “The great thing is you can be any size – short, tall, thin, heavy-set – and there’s a place for you.”
The women find ROCK is a great stress reliever, too.
“I am so much healthier than I’ve ever been and physically active and physically fit, and it’s a great way to get out your aggression,” Howe said.
So what do their students at Dunbar and Hayes think? Basically, they’re fascinated by roller derby and intrigued by the nicknames.
As Robin Souls put it, “I’m kind of like a rock star.”
Pebbles & Stone Rosies
Dunbar teacher Wendy Turner heads up ROCK’s junior derby program for girls 8 to 17. The youth are introduced at the adult bout and present a derby demonstration for the audience, showing off what they’ve learned about pace lines, weaving and veering, falls, stops and crossovers. At this age, roller derby is all about positional blocking, with minimal contact.
“It’s about skating, being on a team, learning the skills and being responsible,” Turner said. “It’s important for girls to feel confident about themselves.”
(Photos from FCPS)
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