WENATCHEE — One day last year, Fred Meyer pharmacist Rhonda Bekker — aka Derby Girl “Apple Lucy” — arrived at work wearing roller skates.
The 45-year-old professional, outwardly conservative by her own admission, left behind the rest of her roller derby team’s uniform — the crushed velvet booty pants, the fishnet stockings and the devilish cape.
She also didn’t pack that famous on-track, kick-butt, in-yer-face attitude sported by many derby dolls.
“For me, it was risky enough just showing up at work in skates,” laughed Bekker, a jammer (point scorer) for the Black Label Barbies. “But customers loved it — just the tiniest bit of roller derby-ness right there behind the pharmacy counter.”
Bekker’s one of a handful of local women — pharmacist, school principal, marketing exec, social worker and others — who regularly shuck their outward professional demeanors for the growling Derby Grrrrl guise and the sheer fun of skating fast and bopping opponents.
The women roll, jam, block, pivot and whip with Apple City Roller Derby, the three-team, all-female, flat-track league whose bevy of babes have taken the Wenatchee Valley by storm. Tatted up, cleavaged out, painted heavy, leggy and limber, the players have appeared in everything from charity fundraisers to St. Patrick’s Day parades to local derby bouts that have drawn hundreds of fans.
The league involves about 60-70 women from all walks of life — students, moms, orchard workers, professionals — who range widely in age (18 to 60) and skill levels.
“Do we have split personalities?” mused Janie Noviello, 48, pouty and pigtailed as the pistol-draped “Calamity Jane” on the JawBreaker team.
“Well, maybe, just slightly,” she said. “When I get dressed for work in the morning I know that I shouldn’t bring my holsters and six-guns — or my Derby Girl attitude — to work.”
Good decision. Noviello is a case manager for the state Department of Social and Health Services’ Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Every day she helps needy people get cash, medical assistance and job referrals.
“In my professional life, I have to rein in my Derby Girl tendencies,” said Noviello. “So I’m glad for the chance on the track to play dress-up in ways I don’t get to in normal life.”
Her voice gets louder. “I GET TO BE CRAZY AND EXTROVERTED ” — then back to regular volume — “and then I return to my life as a single mom with two kids and a good job. Which is all good, all fine. But it’s not, you know … minute by minute, it’s not as exciting as roller derby.”
Not all Derby Girls join for the makeup and mayhem, said Sandi Bammer, 37, vice-president of the Apple City league who plays for the JawBreakers as “SlaYer Sorry.” In real life, she homeschools kids during the day and is a waitress at night.
“Sometimes they join purely for athletics,” she said. “This is a real workout that challenges almost every skill level. The great thing is that women of every size and shape can play — there’s no ‘perfect’ Derby Girl physique — and become part of the camaraderie and teamwork.”
That’s the case for Amy Lewis, the 42-year-old marketing director for Wenatchee’s Corban Security and a blocker for the Hydro Elektras named “Ameless.”
Even with a lightning bolt painted across half her face, Lewis said costumes and attitude ranked low among her reasons to strap on skates and shoot around a track.
Lewis said 10 years of women’s hockey proved to her that organized sports offer players a richer athletic experience — “better than any gym” — that includes a workout for the body and the mind.
“Strategy,” she said. “People laugh when I tell them this, but roller derby is a highly strategic game that keeps you thinking the whole time you’re on the track. You play offense and defense at the same time — very hard.”
It’s the same for Kelli Doherty, 39, the principal of Osborn Elementary School in Leavenworth, a blocker for the JawBreakers who goes by “Happy Hour” — a reference to her non-stop smiles, not her drinking habits.
“Look, I’m no athlete. I hadn’t skated since middle school,” she said. “But right from the start” — she joined roller derby nine months ago — “I’ve been impressed with the camaraderie and encouragement the women in our league provide for each other.”
Her voice went low and serious. “People talk about that famous roller derby aggression and attitude, and there’s truth to that. But, really, the attitude I see mostly is nothing but positive and supportive.”
Roller derby has also helped build her confidence in her professional life, said Principal Doherty. “In tough (school) situations, I tell myself that if I can play roller derby — physically get out there and play hard — then anything’s possible. I can do anything.”
Added Noviello, “Athletically, there’s exponential room to grow and improve in this game. A lot of people — maybe I’m talking about myself? — find it hard pull away from roller derby. You become pretty good at it and it sort of takes over your life.”
She laughed. “I mean, it’s a rush — a real adrenaline rush.”
Mike Irwin: 665-1179