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ACCORD, NY — Roller derby is a sport of passion and empowerment, combined with the flavor of punk-meets-pop-culture camp in a full-contact sport that showcases a rainbow of colors, mixing it up on skates.
Think WrestleMania meets “Fast & Furious” and you start to get the picture of what it’s all about: teams of whirling dervishes on four-wheeled quad skates jamming, blocking, walling up, getting a goat, bridging and, in general, having a tremendously frenetic time. They step in the rink to who’s-the-best on skates on any given evening as the crowds cheer on their favorite teams and individual derby demons.
One of the more unique aspects of modern-era roller derby, most commonly referred to in roller derby lingo as ‘derby,’ is that it simultaneously features offense and defense. It adds a thrilling component to the game—strategy versus brawn on the fast-paced tracks of polished wood.
Laura Palermo skates in a roller-derby outfit named the Mid-Hudson Misfits under the derby nom de guerre “Madam Manatease.” According to Palermo, the not-for-profit organization (Mid-Hudson Misfits Roller Derby, Inc.) was founded in 2012 to provide “an open and inclusive environment in which all women in the Mid-Hudson valley with the desire to learn and play roller derby are able to do so.”
“Our league is made up of a diverse group of women from several counties in the region,” she said. “We come from different backgrounds and occupations, but we are united in our love of flat-track roller derby.”
Continuing to express her passion for derby, and speaking on behalf of the Misfits, Palermo added, “We are strong, athletic individuals. We are community focused. We are anything but cookie cutter, and we are proud of it. We are the Mid-Hudson Misfits!”
The mission statement of the Misfits lists their goals as follows: developing its skaters as athletes capable of local, regional, national and international roller derby competition; promoting the sport of flat-track roller derby in the area; and giving back to the community by working closely with local not-for-profit and charitable organizations.
“I was invited to watch a game by a friend, and fell in love with the sport,” recalled Palermo, moments before armoring-up for a practice session at Skate Time 209 in Accord, NY.
While the Misfits come from all over the region, a couple of ‘locals’ from our neck of the woods are part of the recreational derby league: Jenna Ferguson “Leggs” of Livingston Manor and Sandra Cuellar Oxford “Sandstorm” of Hurleyville.
Ferguson has been skating for more than 20 years, and “doing derby” for the last four years.
“Derby is amazing. It encompasses all different types of skaters, different types of bodies,” she said. “Everybody has a position on the track and is useful… Tall, short people who are bigger or who are thinner… everybody has their spot.”
“You learn how to fall, take a hit, hit people safely and really train hard,” said “Leggs,” tilting back her helmet while taking a quick break from the intense practice session.
Sandy Oxford, a widely-known advocate for the rights of immigrants, legal representation for the indigent, youth services, community organizer and educator, joined the Misfits four years ago at the age of 49, and said derby has “become the fountain of my youth.”
“It’s a really lovely group of women with a real diversity of backgrounds and experiences… a real diverse group of individuals who came together, it’s become like a derby family,” she said.
Oxford skates derby with the Misfits, an all-women team, and with Empire State Roller Derby, a team comprised of both genders.
Reflecting on derby as a high-roller metaphor of life, she was recently quoted as saying, “If you get knocked down five times, you get up six.”
“I just love it,” added “Sandstorm.” “It’s eight wheels, one love!”
For information about the Misfits, email midhudson
firstname.lastname@example.org and find them on Facebook.
“If anyone is interested in giving derby a try, we have open practices every Tuesday from 7 to 10 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. ,” said Palermo. “Our Saturdays also encompass our junior team which is open to children ages 8 to 17.”
The Mid-Hudson Misfits next home bout is Saturday, September 7 at Skate Time 209 against the Broome County Parlor City Tricks. Another bout is scheduled for Saturday, October 5.
For information about Skate Time 209, call 845/626-7971 or visit www.skatetime209.com.
Doors open at 5 with the first whistle at 6 p.m. Tickets cost $10 in advance, $12 at the door and $5 for kids under 12.
A few of the Misfits talked about roller derby and what it means to them, and when asked to share their thoughts about the sport, a few singular concepts stood out for this sports scribbler—words such as empowerment, family, femininity, community, celebration, freedom and, in the words of a member of the Misfits junior team, “I can be a complete badass.”
#631: Laura Palermo, “Madame Manatease” of Kingston, NY
“Roller derby has given me an outlet that I never knew I needed. It’s an empowering sport that is both thrilling and terrifying. The sport comes with a lovely community of people who will support you through all of your triumphs and tribulations, and will always help you get back after you fall,”
#18 Farrell Brenner, “Eleanor Bruisevelt,” of Kingston, NY
“The Misfits are a community that holds me on both good and bad day. Derby taught me that falling down is part of the process, and something to be celebrated.”
#15: Audrey Brand, “Jeez Louise,” of Gardiner, NY
“Been doing derby for a year, has revolutionized my relationship with myself and expanded my definition of femininity.”
#2305: Samantha Willenbucher, “Filthy As Charged,” of Middletown, NY.
“Derby has meant freedom. Freedom to be 100% me, and the freedom to finally be unafraid to take a chance. It’s my world.”
#007: Amberly Jane Campbell, “Jane Bondage,” of Rosendale, NY.
“Derby to me means being a superhero. It means challenging yourself and embracing the power we all hold. It means life. I will do derby till I die.”
#343: Jenna Ferguson, “Leggs,” of Livingston Manor, NY
“Derby to me means family that accepts me for who I am.”
#735: Sarah Kanney, “Off Track Betty,” of New Paltz, NY
“Derby for me is the sisterhood, positivity encouragement and self-empowerment that comes from putting on roller skates and accomplishing what you set out to achieve,”
#003: Vanessa Valencia, “Sassy-ka-Boom,” of Poughkeepsie, NY
“Derby is so many things to me. Self-care and community are high on the list, but I also love the way it empowers you and allows you to help empower others., constantly challenging me physically and mentally. After five years, I keep finding new ways to improve. It’s like I’m in a live action video game, and I keep leveling up!”
#515: “Mimic” of Saugerties, NY
“Derby is an inclusive and supportive place to make new friends. It’s also a great way to get some exercise.”
#293: Ellen Sweet, “Rusty Foxidation” or “Foxy”
“To me, derby means interacting and working with a group of diverse, interesting women, I work in engineering, which is a field largely populated by men. I was so excited to discover derby, to find a team of women working together towards a common goal, It’s a place where I can unapologetically be a woman, where I can be supportive and aggressive. I can love my teammates, and still hit hard, and be hit hard on the track.”
#713: Brigid, “Sinner,” of New Paltz, NY of the Mid-Hudson Mischief, Misfits’ junior team.
“It means that I can be a complete badass and stay healthy and fit, I can also do what I love. Skating!”