Metro Detroit women escaping day-to-day life on roller derby track

Roller derby is growing sport with women of all professions becoming derby girls at night

DETROIT - Metro Detroit women are escaping their day-to-day life and discovering their fun and edgier sides on the roller derby rink. It is a sport that is growing in popularity locally and around the country.

There is no mold for a roller derby skater, they are mothers, students, and professionals.

Flat track roller derby is a team sport that that developed in 2001 and is played on flat tracks across the United States, on anything that is suitable for roller skates from rinks to parking lots.

Mary Ann Huang is doctor, a liver specialist and senior staff in the Hepatology department at Henry Ford Hospital in Midtown. She is also a derby girl, something that surprises her patients.

"My name is Fermosa Fury, I'm a skater on the Devil's Night Dames part of the Detroit Derby Girls, said Huang.

Dale Milford recent received a liver transplant and is a patient of Huang.

"When I said she doesn't hold any punches, I didn't realize how literally true that was," said Milford. "I gained a new respect for her moxie that she can pull off those kinds of physical demands as well as the intellectual and emotional demands that surround her here."

Huang said she loves being a derby girl, but it can take a toll on her schedule because she works during the day and plays roller derby in the evenings.

"Being on call or if I have to get called in, my mornings usually start pretty early so late night practices are pretty brutal on my schedule,"

Huang said she got involved with roller derby about three years ago after getting a divorce.

"The unfortunate thing about derby is I discovered it late, because I'm older than most people out there," said Huang.

She said there is no stereotype for the sport.

"It's fun and women dress up and we wear fishnets and booty shorts and what not, but you know what, the physicality of the sport is really want attracts me to it and I think that's what's attracting a lot of people," said Huang.

Shelie Miller, an assistant professor of natural resources at the University of Michigan, also plays roller derby.

She is a leader in her field and on the track.

"I was awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for scientists and engineers which is one of the highest honors bestowed upon young scientists and engineers by the White House," said Miller.

Miller said she was just looking for something to do on the weekends when she got into roller derby.

"You can take a painting class or you can knock people down and I decided to knock people down," said Miller.

She too has a roller derby name. Derby names are often very creative revealing a player's tough side or funny side.

"I'm Mean Josie Green and I'm co-captain of the Grand Prix Madonnas of the Detroit Derby Girls," said Miller.

Miller said in roller derby, it doesn't matter what a player does off the track.

"I don't know their real names and I don't know what they do for a living, and none of that matters on the track, it just matters how hard you hit, how fast you get up and how much you heart you have to give to it" said Miller. "It's very freeing.

Miller said her students think it's funny to see their professor skating in roller derby.

"She is a fabulous instructor, really good at engaging undergrads," said Jenn Kullgren, a graduate student instructor at the University of Michigan. "I think it's something that Shelie kind of keeps under the radar screen here, but I think it's a whole different life maybe."

Huang said anyone can try out for roller derby. She said it is really empowering to women because they can say 'Hey I can do this

"It's really empowering women to say 'Hey look I can do this. I can basically take a hit, you know, be hit.' And I do think it makes people pretty fearless, which I know it has for me,'" said Huang.

Miller wants everyone to know that there can be a learning curve, but the sport is very exhilarating.

"It's a sport that's pretty welcoming to people who like to play sports and also who've never really done sports in their entire lives," said Miller.

As professionals and as roller derby girls, Huang said she thinks they make great role models for kids, especially for girls.

"Just because I think we're strong, athletic women all shapes and sizes," said Huang.

The Women's Flat Track Derby Association was founded in 2004 and oversees the sport.  For more on how the sport is played and it's rules, click here.

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