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Born in America during the 1930s, roller derby’s popularity rises and falls with periodic regularity. (Katie Callan / Corbis)

Roller Derby’s Sisterhood

Ithaca’s SufferJets may have ironic skate names and elaborate uniforms, but on the track, it’s all business

smithsonian.com

The SufferJets range in age from 20 to almost 50 and are graduate students, massage therapists, scientists, writers and acupuncturists. They practice several times a week, learning how to skate, block, and most importantly, how to fall. Injuries can be severe--team members have already suffered one broken ankle, a torn knee, a broken finger, and many, many bruises since the SufferJets started playing in 2008. Each skater has to have personal health insurance to skate on the team.

“We teach them how to fall small,” says Gifford. “If you try to stop your fall with your hands, you run the risk of breaking something, not to mention getting your fingers rolled over by other skaters.” Skaters have to wear quad roller skates, a helmet, mouth guard, wrist guard, and elbow and kneepads. Additionally, the SufferJets wear padded shorts under their uniform, a short gray polyester dress.

Ithaca loves the SufferJets, and the team supports the local community. On game nights, the little ice rink is packed with 800 to 1,000 spectators, and at $10 a head suggested donation, the SufferJets are well in the black. They give ten percent of the take at the door to a local charity and are visible at most local events.

The SufferJets lost to Wilmington 106 – 146 on that steamy August night, and when I give my condolences to Sarabellum, she takes one look at my very athletic 16-year-old daughter and says, “How old is she?” When I tell her, she says, “In two years, I want her.”

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