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What One Car-Pooling Roller Derby Mom and a Chevy Aerodynamics Engineer Have in Common

By Dani Burlison

After a few short seasons of carting my daughter to local soccer games, she abruptly decided competitive sports just weren’t her thing. She cited “too scary” and “too dangerous” as reasons for retirement from her short stint on the field. Instead, she focused her sights on more gentle, less competitive activities like knitting, horseback riding and guitar lessons. Naturally, when she came to me and asked to join the new Junior Roller Derby group that was forming, I was stunned. I had friends who played derby, but the idea of my tiny 11-year-old flying around roller rinks with bigger, more aggressive girls blocking and trailing her was nerve-wracking, to say the least.

And although it’s thrilling to watch a bout, I wasn’t sure I understood what Roller Derby really was. After some quick research, I learned the basics of the game:

Two teams of (mostly) women tie up their roller skates, buckle on helmets and whiz around roller rinks, trying to score points. Each team consists of jammers, skaters who attempt to lap the other team, thereby scoring points by finishing before the other team’s jammer; blockers, who assist the jammers in getting through the other team members’ pack and block the other team’s jammer from passing; and pivots, who not only serve as blockers but can also act as jammers if needed.

Now that I knew what derby entailed—in addition to transporting my daughter to practice every week—I still needed reassurance that my wee one would not be crushed by a hoard of thug-like skaters. I needed to talk to another mom with Roller Derby know-how and maybe some on-the-rink experience herself. I wanted to hear the pros and cons of the sport first hand.

One such mom with a unique connection to all things derby is Michigan’s Bath City Derby Girl, Suzy Cody.

“Parents can have great conversations with their kids about doing what they want to do, not conforming to the norm, accepting all shapes and sizes and backgrounds” says Cody from her home in Michigan. “And also just general self-esteem.”

Cody, known on the rink as “Shovey Camaro,” not only gets a work-out and active bonding time with her teammates through playing this sport on wheels; it also influences her career as an aerodynamic development engineer for General Motors.

“When I’m skating, I frequently think about my equipment—including my body—and ways I can reduce the amount of energy I use,” says Cody. “I’m a jammer, so speed and agility are important. The right wheels, good bearings, mass reduction and the proper tuck position all come into play. In my job I’m focused on designing and engineering an energy-efficient vehicle, so it’s natural for me to apply some of that knowledge to saving energy on the track.”

Cody is also quick to correct any misconceptions people like myself have about the sport.

“There are rules—a lot of them! You can’t punch, elbow, hit anyone in the face or in the back,” says Cody. “There’s quite a bit of strategy and teamwork involved, too—it’s one of the few sports were everyone is playing offense and defense at the same time. We also don’t want anyone to get hurt!”

It was partly this advice from “Shovey Camaro”—a moniker inspired by that oh-so-sleek Chevy sports (and race) car—that quelled my reservations. But mostly it was watching my daughter’s confidence swell as a result of her time rolling with her teammates. I soon discovered that convincing her to slow down long enough to drink water and stay hydrated was the only facet of derby I needed to worry about.

Dani Burlison is a wannabe anthropologist who lives, writes, teaches writing workshops and entertains her children in Northern California.


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