After a long week of dealing with the everyday hassles that come with adult life, the members of the Cape Cod Salty Dolls roller derby team relish the moments they can release some pent-up aggression.
“This is a great way to do it,” said Lynn Wetherbee, better known as Raven Pain. “Once you enter the doors here all the stress and aggravation of the week just goes away. None of it exists. There’s only roller derby.”
Around and around they roll with each passing lap, every hip check and even the occasional elbow as the members of the Salty Dolls transform from stay-at-home mothers or teachers or nurses into bad-to-the-bone body bruisers.
For five years the women of the Salty Dolls roller derby team have kicked butt and made names—creatives ones like Nan Suckit or Jacqui O No. But more than the physicality and more than the punny monikers they skate as, the league is about family.
“When you join derby you find your 30 best friends instantly. We’re all very close. We support each other and build one another up,” said Meryl Vujs, also known as Nan Suckit. “It’s a wonderful thing for women to do together and work together and achieve something athletic and strong.”
From Plymouth to Harwich, and everywhere in between, close to 50 women gather to be a part of something greater than themselves. The camaraderie makes the bumps and bruises—and even the occasional broken ankle—worth it. Family is the word that was tossed around the most by the athletes when describing the team.
“We’re like family. It’s amazing you fit right in after you start,” Wetherbee said. “Roller derby changed my life. I don’t know what I’d do without it.”
Those who sweat together stay together.
Wetherbee, a front end supervisor at Ocean State Job Lot and Falmouth resident, was introduced to the Salty Dolls four years ago. Looking to find a physical sport, Wetherbee was teetering toward boxing before stumbling upon the team at the inaugural Cape Cod Beard and Mustache Championships in Dennisport in 2014.
“I saw them and didn’t know there was such a thing,” Wetherbee said. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do and I signed up then and there.”
Four years later the team captain has yet to miss a practice or game.
The sport has a tendency to sink its claws into its participants and fans alike—creating a sub-community of people that’s connected through the hell-on-wheels sport. Since its revival in the early 2000s, roller derby has exploded across the globe with more than 2,000 amateur leagues from the United States to Belgium to New Zealand. Many of the leagues and teams, like the Salty Dolls, are do-it-yourself organizations that get the word out through social media, word-of-mouth and grassroots marketing.
When the Salty Dolls hosted the New Hampshire Roller Derby All-Stars on Saturday, May 5, team members scrambled to transform the gymnasium of Cape Cod Community College into a roller derby track. It’s a mad dash to the start of the game and there’s a laundry list of chores to complete. It takes a team effort.
Volunteers scurried to set up the merchandise and refreshment tables. Players laid down masking tape to outline the tracking, placing the tape over string so it could be easily removed—the team doesn’t have a home track to themselves, for now. Amy Caracappa-Qubeck, known as Dee Cappatate, the league president of Cape Cod Roller Derby, swiftly moved from hanging signage to greeting the game officials to coordinating with the A/V technicians.
“We have about 12 skaters on the roster and around 48 people to help set up everything,” Wetherbee said. “It takes a village and we do it just for fun.”
Once the two teams finish the 90-minute rolling bar fight, they come together for an after party to share libations and laughs among the hodgepodge of women from all walks of life.
“They are our sisters too, just from a different place. It’s a web of sisters across the country,” Vujs said. “That’s what makes this so much fun. You can be angry and mean on the track, but after it’s all done you all say, ‘Hey, that was fun.’ ”
Hannah McBee, a paramedic from Plymouth who’s aptly named Polly Trauma, still is amazed at the number of youngsters who have taken notice. Prior to the start of the game, McBee was lacing up her skates when a young girl approached her with a pen and program in hand.
“Can I have your autograph?” the young girl asked, with just a touch of nerves echoing from the tremble in her voice.
It took a moment for it to sink in to McBee that the young girl was asking her for an autograph.
“This still catches me off-guard,” McBee said. “It feels so good every time. It’s a really cool thing. I have two stepkids and I never realized how much of an impact it has on them. They talk about it all the time.”
The roller derby members have held youth camps in the past and once a month hold “fresh meet” meetings for adults interested in joining the ranks. For first-timers or experienced skaters, the group will work with anyone who’s interested in the sport.
Vujs, who has been with the team since its inception, had very little athletic experience and didn’t know how to skate. Now five years in she’s the program’s director of athletics and works hand-in-hand with the training committee to ensure everyone knows how to play the game.
All it takes is effort and a willingness to learn. And maybe a desire to knock someone on their butt every now and again.
“I teach little kids music. I’m not aggressive at all when I’m working,” Vujs, who owns multiple Meryl’s Music and Arts Centers around the Cape, including Sandwich, said. “You get through your week by coming here to sweat and hit people and get it out of your system without getting in trouble.”
For those interested, the Salty Dolls will host Hartford Area Roller Derby on Saturday, June 9, at the Cape Cod Community College gymnasium.