Making her way in a tough sport

Bloomfield resident Alicyn Gavin has taken up the sport of flat-track roller derby. She likes the excitement, the competitive drive and the friends she has made along the way.

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — The Garden State Roller Girls, a flat-track roller derby league, will commence its 2019 season on Saturday, March 9, with a Bloomfield resident padded up.

Alicyn Gavin will be competing for the Gateway Grim Reapers against teams whose names are not pretty: the Northern Nightmares, the Jersey City Bridge and Pummel, the Ironbound Maidens and the Brick City Bruisers. On the track, Gavin will go by the name Violent Crawley, a moniker inspired by a character on TV’s “Downton Abbey.” In a local coffee emporium this past Sunday, Gavin explained some of the finer points of roller derby.

“It takes a little while to ‘get’ the game,” she said. “It takes a lot to learn.”

OK. There are two 30-minute halves consisting of a series of two-minute “jams.” A jam begins with 10 skaters on the track, five to a team. Four skaters are blockers and one is the jammer. The jammer is the only point-scorer for her team and she does this by passing the opposing team’s blockers and jammer. But a point is tallied only after she pass an opponent a second time. Pass the entire opposing team and after the second time the jammer scores five points for her team and a point thereafter for every opposing skater she passes. But the jammer who passes her opponents and leads the other skaters also has a tremendous tactical advantage because she can signal to end the jam at any time before the two-minute clock has expired. Gavin is a blocker.

“You block mostly with your butt,” she said. “You want to stick your butt into the jammer and hold it there.”
There is a lot of scoring in a contest with the winning team sometimes putting over 300 points on the board. On the track, along with the competitors, are five on-skate referees. There are as many as 10 more referees off-skates.
“There are a lot of penalties,” Gavin said. “Most are devised to keep everything safe.”

Gavin, who is an executive director for radio services, became interested in the sport 10 years ago when a friend took her to a
practice.

“I thought it was so cool and wanted to do it, but was intimidated,” she said.
Time passed. Gavin got to be a 34-years-old mother with a 4-year-old daughter and a husband who fears for her safety and so she figured it was now or never. She went to the league training program, called Fresh Meat, and was eventually tested on her speed at skating, her playing skills and derby rules and was drafted by the Reapers. They practice twice a week at Branch Brook Park. Gavin will be skating in her first derby this Saturday, in North Arlington, at the Inline Skating Club of America. Admission is charged.

There are about 40 skaters in the Garden State Roller Girls League. Every athlete is unpaid and purchases league insurance.
Gavin is a Nutley High School graduate, Class of 2001. She played volleyball and rowed crew, each sport for four years. She was volleyball captain her senior year and played volleyball at Rowan University for three years.
“Skating is an enormous time commitment,” she said. “The practices are at night after my daughter goes to bed. Sports has always been a part of my life.”

But it don’t come easy, she admits.
“It’s nice having a new challenge,” she said. “Some days, I feel like I’m getting it, but on others, I spend it on the ground, confused.”

As can be expected, support comes from the athletes with whom Gavin skates. And maybe a little understanding comes with that support because the sport is itself unexpected.

“I became very tight with the girls I went through Fresh Meat with,” she said. “Nobody takes anything personal. It’s not like hockey when there’s a hit, everyone throws down.”

Gavin would recommend the roller derby to any woman who wants a great experience while getting out of their elements and releasing their hostilities.

“My mind never wanders at practice,” she said.
But Gavin takes exception to people who do not think what she and her skating colleagues are doing is a real sport.
“No one want to cover it as a sport, that it’s a novelty,” she said. “People have this 1970s idea in their heads about roller derby when it was televised — girls in short-shorts on skates beating the hell out of each other — pro wrestling on wheels. This is not what it is.

“We’re real athletes in a contact sport for which we work just as hard as a football or hockey team. It’s a full-contact female sport with women busting their butts to run a league and be the best athlete they can be.”

And the women who are doing the busting, she said, are teachers, a Broadway seamstress, a psychologist, authors, nannies, and there is even a librarian.
Go Reapers!

 

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