So young lady, you want to get into professional sports?
There are a lot of women and young girls who would like to get into professional sports these days. This year, the winter Olympics have been a great inspiration for me and so many people. I moved to my computer and then I began to write. What I have documented are my remembrances of what it was like in the 1950's. These are honest accounts of the people and times of the amazing world of professional roller derby. I hope they entertain you inspire your own dreams.
When I Met Sports Legends
The first race that I skated was on a roller derby team named the Washington Jets in Teneck New Jersey in 1950. At that time, our team skated against the Jersey Jolters who were skating in their home territory. In many ways, I had no idea what was about to happen to me. I had no idea what people I would meet. Derby management had drafted me as a young skater. I was put into the game and surrounded with great skaters like Monta Jean Payne and Toughie Brasuhn. At one time Mary Lou Palermo, Julie "Ace" Patrick were also on the Jolters making it a strong women's team. Little did I know that I was in for some life long teachings from veteran professionals. These teachings would be carried with me for the rest of my life.
It was here in Teneck New Jersey that I began to meet the "stars" of the sport. There were Skaters like the one & only Gerry Murray, Bobbie Johnstone, Annabelle Kealey, Annis Jensen, Mary Gardner, Gertie Scholl, Fuzzy Bechek, Bobbie Burns, Georgeanna Kemp, & last, I must not forget, Mary Youpelle. These names might mean nothing to some of my readers. But they are very much alive in my thoughts. All of these woman were the teachers of the future of roller derby. They were to lead many other women. They helped to forge the way for skaters. They were matriarchs carrying out a tradition that started in the 1930's. These were the very first females in professional roller sports. By the time I had come into the sport, these professionals took me under their wing. They began to help me through the bumps and bruises of one hell-of-a roller derby life.
Professional Sports IS a tough world
No one told me that becoming a roller derby skater in those days was going to be easy. There were hours and hours of daily training before and even after each live professional game. The training sessions were very strict. We had long hours. I felt as if I would have to be carried out the door every night. My feet, legs and entire body were exhausted.
I remember that we did a lot of pacing to build up endurance and wind. We would pace so much that we had blisters on top of blisters on our feet. Then we had rough blocking exercises where the men and women learned how to block with the forearm and elbow. There was the "chair throwing exercise" where the trainer or coach would throw a chair onto the track as if it was a fallen skater and we would have to jump and avoid it otherwise roll right into it. The chair exercise helped me to move quickly and think on my skates. At the time I was pretty scared of hurting myself. Later I would find that this exercise was something that I would need every moment in my professional games.
When I was in training, there was very little interaction with any of the other skaters off the track. Some nights, a small groups of the professional skaters who needed more training would drop in. They kept to themselves and everyone was focused on learning and strengthening their skills as much as possible. Perhaps we were just too bruised and tired to talk to one another. I remember that we had many other exercises. We worked a lot on the sprinting skills that were needed to break from the pack. To sprint from a fast moving pack takes a lot of practice and wind. Because everyone is moving around the banks so fast it took me a while to get the knowledge of when to sprint. Then I learned the skill as to how to break out of the pack and use those banks to speed faster than I had ever skated before. When I was able to do this with some style, it was a thrill that I still remember now.
TRAIN TO BE BRAIN DEAD
I remember that my body was taught to absorb punishment. I was taught to get knocked down, and, then before the pain hit my nervous system; I had to jump right back up and sprint on my skates to get moving again. The quicker that I got up from that fall the better. I did not give my body time to absorb or think about the fall. It was called "train to be brain dead".
All of us learned how to block out any hurt or pain. Sometimes we had a 200-pound blocker who knocked us on your rear with all he had. We learned to take rails so that the ribs don't get cracked or broken. We learned how to motivate our minds to do things fast. You learned to think for yourself in a very tough and fast moving sport. We had to ignore the pain.
After a long day of training, a new kid would have to get ready to skate against the hardened mainstays of the different teams. As a first time skater I was expected to take the punishment from the pros. That was all part of the game and part of what was expected by a new skater or new kid.
My First Game
In my first game, I was cocky. I thought I knew everything and was pretty full of myself. After all I had been training like crazy and I was good. I mean, I thought I was good…ha ha ha.
That first time I was sent flying over rails, under rails and in between the rails. I was dropped on my butt every chance the pro's had. Every chance they had, they would send me flying. This went on for many games until one day I was strong enough to hold my own ground and that was when I really began to learn my main lesson about professional sports. I had better stay the hell out of the way, or be prepared to fight back!
Even the training had not prepared me for the kinds of things that I learned in those games. I will give you three guesses on where I went from that rough and tumble start? I hope that I will be able to tell you that next time. I am so proud that the game is still alive today and that it remains a sport where we women can grow and learn to compete just like the men. If you are thinking of becoming a professional roller derby skater, I can tell you from experience that you will have incredibly great memories for the rest of your life.
It has been my pleasure to be with you,
Loretta "Little Iodine" Behrens