Lehigh Valley Roller Girls

By Susan Stets

On a recent Monday evening, the atmosphere was charged with the blend of friendly competition and sisterhood that draws women from all walks of life to the Lehigh Valley Rollergirls. Founded in 2006 by Quakertown resident Elaina Borchelt, the Lehigh Valley Rollergirls is the region’s only women’s flat track roller derby league. A non-profit, skater-owned and operated league, it is dedicated to promoting strong women and sisterhood.

Some women join for the physical challenge, others seek camaraderie, still others want relief from stress. They come from near and far to their practice rink in Schnecksville three times a week, where they don helmets, padding and skates for a couple of hours of fun and an intense athletic workout. Traveling from as far away as Scranton and Stroudsburg– as well as from the Lehigh Valley– they seek a brand of mental and physical challenge not found in many other sports, especially for women.

“We want to take the spectacle out of roller derby and transform it into a true sport,” says Elaina, whose skater name is “Elaina Bee.”

It may look like a free-for-all with skates humming and spirits high, but if you pay close attention you will see that roller derby as it is practiced today is a true sport. There are rules and regulations, with penalties and points to score, and even referees to enforce them. There are coaches and assigned positions: jammers try to get through the line of skaters; blockers block the opposition while helping their teammates break through the line.

The Lehigh Valley Rollergirls is an apprentice league of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, dedicated to developing athletics, “sportswomanship” and goodwill among member leagues. WFTDA’s governing philosophy is “by the skaters, for the skaters.” The women skaters own, manage and operate their individual leagues. They set their own standards for rules, seasons and safety, but agree to comply with the governing body’s policies.

Karen Luzzi, whose skater name is “Felony Arson,” says she wanted a physical challenge but was tired of going to the gym. “I missed being part of a team of women, and these women are a great cross-section of society. We have artists, musicians, scientists and engineers—people who might not otherwise meet.”

Laura Lueders, also known as “Vanilla CreamHer,” is a human resources manager with two children, ages eight and three. “I didn’t know much about roller derby,” she says, “but the second I saw it I knew I wanted to play.” Laura says she plays for exercise and stress relief. “I have always had a passion for athletic and aggressive sports, and derby fills the void I had by just working and being a mom.”

Women who join have no idea what they’re in for, both skaters say, but every woman learns something about herself after dealing with 30 other strong and powerful females. Aggressive players learn self-discipline. Timid players learn to stand up to the competition. “The sport pulls people out of their shells,” Elaina says. “My advice is, if you’re interested—do it. It’s a great experience to push yourself beyond your physical and mental limits.”

The sport is for anyone who is fit and over 18, says Tanara Govern, a.k.a. “Helen Darink,” president of the Lehigh Valley Rollergirls, who had not had skates on for 20 years before trying out for the team. A stay-at-home mom with four children, Helen also uses roller derby as her gym membership. She says it’s like having friends all over the country. “When I’m on vacation, I look up the closest league and attend their practices–I love the sport that much,” she says.

The physical workout and diverse friendships are what keep these women coming back to the sport. “It’s not often you can be an aggressive female and get applauded for it,” Tanara says.

To join, attend an open skate at the Independence Family Fun Center in Schnecksville, or go to Lehighvalleyrollergirls.com.

2010 Home Games:

May 29 – Hissy Fits, the Lehigh Valley Rollergirls’ all-star team, vs. Roc City Roller Derby.

June 12 – Hissy Fits vs. Long Island Roller Rebels.

September 18 Double-header – Hissy Fits and Special Vixens Unit (Lehigh Valley Rollergirls elite squad formed in 2008) vs. Jersey Shore Roller Girls.

October 23 – Special Vixens Unit vs. The Corporal Punishers.

See the website for directions and additional information.

Susan Stets has been a freelance writer for more than 30 years and has written for national publications including American Profile Magazine and Delta’s Sky Magazine, as well as publications in Berks, Bucks, Lehigh and Montgomery Counties. Susan fell in love with the Lehigh Valley on assignments to the Crayola Factory and the Martin Guitar Company, and moved here in 2005.

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