Local women love the physicality, team aspect of roller derby

Photo courtesy of Mark McClary.Local roller derby players, left to right, are Jena McClary of Derry, Shelby Walker of North Andover and Heather Iram Faretra of Methuen.

This is not exactly breaking news, and not a lot of people would know it, but the Roller Derby season is rapidly approaching.

It begins in April and runs well into the fall, with the nearest league holding competitions in Manchester, N.H., at the JFK Coliseum.

Who knew? Well, there are a number of local women who are well aware and they’re anxious for the season to begin. Their names are Jenna McClary of Derry, Heather Iram Faretra of Methuen and Shelby Walker of North Andover.

For these women, all of whom are in their mid-40s, there is nothing comparable to roller derby and the season can’t come fast enough.

“It’s taxing but it’s a lot of fun and I love to challenge myself,” said the 45-year-old Walker, who is an attorney who works in Cambridge. “I think it’s really empowering.”

Agrees 44-year-old Faretra: “It’s hard work, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but it’s fun and I love that it’s an accepting community. I look forward to playing with my teammates.”

Faretra, a special ed teacher in Methuen who goes by the name “Stormy Heather” (all players have a catchy nickname), has been playing in the New Hampshire Roller Derby League for only three years as a member of the New Hampshire Roller Derby All-Stars team while Walker, or “Shel B Trouble” has been involved for six years. 

Of the three, the 43-year-old McClary, or “Pixie Bruiser,” is a grizzled veteran, having played off and mostly on for 11 years, pretty much since the league started in 2007.

“I like the exercise the most,” said McClary. “I never get to the gym and I like the roller skating plus I like the contact. I don’t get tired of it.”

McClary, Faretra and Walker are all “blockers” for the All-Stars and they get plenty of contact in what is clearly a physical sport. That, and the teamwork involved, is one of the main things that drew them to the sport.

“I was attracted to it because it was a contact female sport and it was something I could do that was different,” said Walker, who played field hockey, soccer, basketball and softball growing up in Ipswich. “There aren’t a lot of team sports available to older women and really no contact sports.

“I think it’s empowering. You get to skate and you get to hit.”

Faretra, who grew up in Newburyport, played some rugby while a student at Oberlin College and became a fan of contact sports, making roller derby a natural for her.

“It (roller derby) is very physical,” said Faretra. “It’s like a hockey level of checking and you get your share of bumps and bruises.”

The physical nature of roller derby has remained constant over the years, even though from its early days in the 1970s and 1980s there has been a steady flow of rules implemented to ensure safety. While hitting, for example, players can’t use their head, elbows, knees or feet.

Partly because of the surge of new rules, the game has changed a bit in the last decade according to McClary.

“There is still plenty of contact — there are a lot of penalties — but the game is more refined now and it’s gotten more competitive,” said McClary, who previously lived in Haverhill and is a graphic designer working in Groveland. “There’s more strategy and you have to be thinking ahead all the time.”

Perhaps because she is an attorney, Walker appreciates the mental aspect of the sport.

“It’s not a tame sport and it’s still fast-paced but it’s evolved into a more strategic game,” said Walker. “You really need to plan ahead and work as a unit.”

The combination of terrific exercise with its physical nature, plus that the reality that it’s also a good (and one of the only for older women) team sport that requires mental adjustments all make the players envision playing for years to come.

“I plan on playing until my body says I can’t do it anymore,” says Faretra. “I hope to play for quite awhile.”

Sounding a little bit like Tom Brady, Walker has a similar vision. “Assuming I’m injury free, I’d like to play until I’m 50,” she said. “It’s fun and I want  to keep challenging myself.”

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