Minnesota RollerGirl Pushes Through the Pain

In 2004, a group of women put on kneepads and resurrected roller derby—the five-on-five, full-contact sport on roller skates—in the Twin Cities.Today, the Minnesota RollerGirls is a five-team league (four plus an all-star squad), a founding member of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), and (via its all-stars) competitor in the roller derby world championships. Among its 80-plus active skaters is Hanna Belle Lector, AKA Jennifer Plum, a master’s candidate in public health at the University of Minnesota who had never missed a home bout until a recent trip to India to study urbanization and healthcare.

“I got in at the beginning of the RollerGirls, and I’ve been going for 11 years. When it started, it was more of a punk-rock, grass-roots, woman-power, almost-rogue sport. Since then, there’s been so much of an evolution—we’ve taken it from a one-page code of conduct to a complex rules system with officials and referee certifications and rules-review boards.”

“It was kind of a party when we started. Then other leagues started popping up around the country, and we wanted to see what it would be like to play them and they wanted to see what it would be like to play us. Minnesota RollerGirls were one of the original leagues; now the WFTDA is huge governing body encompassing the world.”

“When I started, I didn’t know how to skate—it was a hot mess, I was holding onto the wall. But now I’ve spent the last couple of years running tryouts, where we test on more than many of us could do our first couple of seasons: jumping on skates, skating backwards, falling and recovering quickly, being able to skate really close to people. We do a summer-long training boot camp that is really intense and somewhere between inspiring and heartbreaking when some make it and some don’t.”

“Our home season runs from fall to spring, and all-star interleague runs from around spring through the world championships at the end of October. For those who do both, there’s no break—it’s year-round.”

“Roller derby is addicting. There’s just something about the culture and the sport—it’s empowering and accepting. It forces you to be flexible mentally, forces you to get better, and forces you to evolve as a person. I have two bulging discs in my back. I’ve had three foot surgeries. But when you achieve a new skill or when things come together with your team, you just feel connected and inspired.”

“Tempers can run high. With those internal triumphs can also come internal struggles. I’ve failed at roller derby more than at anything else in my life. It sends you home crying sometimes, but then you fall in love again. You suck it up and come back for more—and hopefully the next practice you get that high again.”

“One of the biggest things we do is help build up the community around us—we have charity and community events at least once a week. Participating in community events is a requirement for being in the league.”

“How long can I do this? I have no idea! I limp when I leave every practice and I have about six ice packs in my freezer at any given time. It’s worth it, but I’m not sure I want to [Brett] Favre it. I also coach high-school girls’ lacrosse and founded and coached the RollerGirls’ rec league. It’s not the Nicholas Sparks movies [The Notebook] that make me cry, it’s the ones where the team comes together that set off my waterworks.”