There isn’t any elbow jabbing, intense collisions or penalties, but after a session with the Derby Lite ladies, it’s hard to say they’re anything but tough.
Founded five years ago by Oak Parker Barbara Dolan, the self-proclaimed “Queen B” of the group, Derby Lite aims to provide fun and fitness learning the same skills used in Roller Derby, minus the competitive edge. Dolan once skated with the Windy City Rollers, Chicago’s largest league, but after two years, she was ready for a break without losing the fitness benefits.
“It really started on selfish needs. I wanted something with exercise and I was tired of the impact,” Dolan said. “I was tired of being hit and falling down and waking up every morning feeling like I was 90 years old.”
She knew many women like her who had a tough time sticking with an exercise routine. She considered what she enjoyed most about Roller Derby and broke down the sport into a workout that any woman could do. Each class includes off-skates conditioning, dynamic warm-ups, on-skates skills and drills, upper-body strength exercises and cool-down stretching.
“I needed something where I wasn’t looking at the clock waiting for it to be over and Roller Derby was the first time I’d ever had that experience,” Dolan said. “The purpose of class is fun and fitness. … It’s not really about the sport; it’s about the workout, which means anyone can do it.”
Derby Lite was founded in November 2007 with 13 women participating. It now has four Chicago-area locations, including its home at 18 Chicago Ave. in Oak Park, and eight other locations in the country.
Like Roller Derby, the women use old-school adapted quad speed skates, and they use the same types of muscles as a typical Roller Derby match would. They offer classes five days a week for beginner, intermediate and advanced skaters.
Dolan said there’s been a rise in popularity in the last decade for the sport, which she believes happened in large part because it’s a sport women can easily connect with.
“It’s a female-dominated sport, which is unusual. You don’t find any other professional sports like that,” she said. “It’s been very grassroots. Roller Derby is by the skaters, for the skaters. It’s for women to feel very empowered. You don’t have to be athletic. You don’t have to know how to skate to join Roller Derby.”
The camaraderie is another element that has attracted women like Susie Goldschmidt, who joined two years ago. Her chosen derby name, a rite of passage for any skater, is “Monkey Girl.” It’s plastered in big pink letters on her shiny helmet, her outfit accompanied by tall, colorful argyle socks and a purple skirt during a recent practice.
“The women really stick together. They are always doing things in groups. I think I’m probably one of the older ones, but they welcome me,” the 55-year-old Oak Park resident said. “They know where my level of comfort is, so they don’t push me too much. They push me quite a bit, but I really love it.”
Melissa Narum, or “Melicious,” is another Oak Park resident and stay-at-home mother of two young children, who finds Derby Lite to be the outlet she needs at the end of her day.
“The music is on and we’re just skating. It’s just a relief from all the daily pressures,” she said. It also brings her back to a pastime as a “child of the ’70s and ’80s” when she skated every weekend around her neighborhood.
Plus, the encouragement she gets from the other women can’t be beat.
“It is the one place you can come work out and there are women of every size, age, and color,” she said. “Nobody is criticizing. Nobody is judging. Everybody is supporting.”
For these women, likely to be found in brightly colored outfits, leggings and tights — equipped with full pads and gear — that’s just the way they roll.
To learn more about the group, visit derbylite.net.