Roller derby girl: As nasty as she wants to be

Photo by Daniel Jackovino
Glen Ridge resident Doris Jeannotte, mathematician and roller derby skater, holds up her skates. Temporarily transplanted from Montreal, she has brought her love of roller derby with her to the United States.

GLEN RIDGE, NJ — Skating in the Garden State Roller Derby league with the bad-girl moniker Fibonasty, Glen Ridge resident Doris Jeannotte loves roller derby for its camaraderie and sweat. Temporarily transplanted from Montreal, Jeannotte is a visiting scholar at Montclair State University, where she is researching the teaching of mathematics in elementary schools. She arrived in the borough in August and will be returning to Montreal in July.

She adopted the Fibonasty handle, she said, because of her love of math. Fibonacci was a Middle Ages mathematician who lends his name to the Fibonacci sequence, the series of numbers starting with 0 in which each number is the sum of the previous two numbers: 0-1-1-2-3-5-8-13-21 and so on. Jeannotte is on sabbatical from the University of Quebec in Montreal.

“I started roller derby when I got my Ph.D. in June 2015,” she said. “I had heard about it in movies and punk cultures. At the time, I was looking for a sport and I knew going to the gym wasn’t enough. I was looking for an environment of friendship and competition. If I block someone, she’s not going to be mad at me. It’s part of the game.”

She said the sport is not more injurious than any other contact sport. In Montreal, she plays on a team named the Contrabandistas.

“Roller derby is different there,” she said. “We’re a bigger league there. And there is a home team and a travel team. Here, with the Garden State Roller Derby league, I would play on both teams.”

To keep all Garden State teams active, skaters play and/or practice with several teams. Jeannotte practices and will play for the Bruisers, and practices with the Iron Maidens and the Gateway Grim Reapers. League play begins Tuesday, March 3, and ends in October.

As a girl, Jeannotte enjoyed figure skating and playing ringette, a game similar to hockey that uses straight sticks instead of bladed ones and a rubber ring instead of a puck.

“I was really good with ice skating before,” she said. “The problem was, after I received my doctorate, I was not in shape. You have to really be in shape for roller derby.”

“It’s a very welcoming sport,” she continued. “It accepts diversity. You don’t have to fit into size-0 jeans. But you have to be in shape. And you don’t have to be 6 feet tall. I’m 5 feet.”

OK, now for the sweat.

In roller derby, there are two 30-minute halves consisting of a series of 2-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. A point is tallied only after you pass an opponent a second time. If the jammer passes the entire opposing team twice, she scores five points for her team. 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 2-minute clock has expired. Jeannotte is a blocker.

“I’m not a fast skater,” she said. “To be a jammer, you have to be fast. I’m more like a wall. I sometimes make a joke: I’m a wall. Go around me, because you can’t go through me. Walls don’t move.”

Jeannotte is married, with two sons and a daughter who skated roller derby for a year in Montreal.

“My husband came to the games, but my sons don’t like it,” she said. “They’re afraid I may hurt myself.”

And she has been hurt, injuring her knee and ankle once. But, she counters, her daughter has also been hurt playing basketball. And although Jeannotte wears prescription glasses, she does not while skating, because they fog up.

“I think there’s a kind of myth, the underground nature of the sport,” she said, “and when you have another name.”

Jeannotte, 42, will continue with roller derby in Canada. Women well into their 50s continue with the sport, she says, because it keeps you young.

“The skaters come from very diverse occupations,” she said. “There are women with their doctorates, an auto mechanic and a video-game designer.”

The Canadian league is bilingual, and, occasionally, so is the Garden State Roller Derby league, Jeannotte said with a chuckle. There have been times, she said, when she has given a quick assessment of the defense, in French, to a puzzled teammate.