Published in Jersey City Magazine.
by Christina M. Hinke
for Jersey City Magazine
When Alix Zimmerman moved to Manhattan, she spent her nights after work flicking though TV channels on her comfy couch - until one day she heard about the resurgence of roller derby. So she clicked through Craigslist and spotted an ad to become a rollergirl. "I didn't have delusions of grandeur," she says. "I hadn't had roller skates on in years. I was just looking for like-minded people."
Now Zimmerman, 27, resides in The Heights, rides the rink instead of surfing the tube, goes by the skate name Layla Smackdown, and is captain of the year-and-a-half-old team Jersey City Bridge & Pummel - a play on the "bridge and tunnel" stigma. "This is something to be proud of," Zimmerman proclaims, "and if you have a problem with it, we're going to show you how we feel about it." The team burns rubber at the Branch Brook Park Roller Skating Center in Newark and is part of the Garden State Rollergirls league.
Zimmerman and her teammates - whose skate names are Jenna Jamitin, Lady Vengeance, La Comandanta, Eva Fangoria, Sorority Slaughter, Pinstripe Punisher, Punchy Brewster and The Oriental Express - are moms, students and young professionals who trade in their daytime attire for campy costumes in their transformation from girl to grrrl. They line their lips in ruby red, kohl the rims of their eyes, and slip into thigh-skimming, skintight dresses and torn fishnet stockings. Some do up their hair in pigtails, and each etches her player number in black marker on her bicep.
"We were always the girls that were hanging out with the guys with fouler mouths, that weren't shrinking violets," Zimmerman says. "That's still the case for me. I'm still not shrinking; I'm still not violet."
Watching Punchy Brewster get the wind knocked out of her from a fall during this summer's benefit bout, and seeing a string of girls thrashed to the ground while skating at high speed, it's clear that roller derby is not for the weak. It's hell on wheels. Teammates train for two-and-a-half hours at least twice a week, go to work the next day, then put on their game-face for an event, even when pain oozes from their pores. Some fall prey to the brawls of the rink, receiving injuries such as ankle breaks. "I had to have my knee drained," says 32-year-old Martha Ward, aka Pinstripe Punisher. "I have a vial in my fridge." But most fight on, even with the common deep bruises that tattoo their skin beneath the thatched black hose.
The groundwork of the game goes like this: Each team consists of three blockers, one pivot and one jammer. Points are scored when a jammer laps the opposing team.
"We need the public to realize that we are a real sport that should be taken seriously, not just a novelty of girls pulling each other's hair," Zimmerman says. "What outlet do women have to be athletic? The WNBA?" Tiffany Salisbury, 26, aka Jenna Jamitin, adds: "And they don't wear fishnets or short skirts."
Yet, like pro sports, roller derby requires athleticism, determination, skill, discipline and courage. Unlike the pros, it's open to anyone, any shape or size; health insurance is the only requirement.
League president Sarah Deem, 27, known as Lady Vengeance on the rink, says she needs more recruits from the Jersey City area to build up their roster. If that happens, Pummel's dream of reaching the national roller derby convention RollerCon in Las Vegas, Nev. in 2008 may become reality. Says Deem: "We've got the goods to really become the very best."
For general information, visit myspace.com/bridgeandpummel or gardenstaterollergirls.com. For inquiries about the team or joining, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remaining 2007 Events
Ironbound Maidens vs. Wilmington City Ruff Rollers
Branch Brook Park Roller Skating Center, Newark
Ironbound Maidens vs. Coal City Rollers
Ironbound Maidens vs. Hub City Hellrazors
Kendall Park, N.J.
The Ironbound Maidens are a travel team consisting of a mix of players from the Jersey City Bridge & Pummel and the Northern Nightmares.
©The Hudson Reporter 2007