During most of the week, DeForest resident Melissa Lowenberg is known as Mom and works as a project assistant at a construction management company. Likewise, Prairie Du Sac-Lodi area resident Jennifer Moore spends most of her time working as the functional manager for a large information technology project.
But, when the two put on a pair of roller skates they become Dopplegänger, a blocker for the Quad Squad, and J.L. Breaker, the bench manager for the skate crime syndicate Reservoir Dolls, respectively.
Doppelgänger, a 29-year-old wife and mother of two, is competing in her first season of roller derby with the Mad Rollin’ Dolls.
“I’ve been skating my whole life and it’s great. I’m just glad to have this to use for skating. To use my skating abilities for good,” she joked. “You know, instead of just skating around the neighborhood.”
Dopplegänger said her mom put her on skates at a young age and was once a hockey player. A car accident left her with a shoulder injury and unable to swing a stick; the Doll took about 10 years off from skating. But, her ability to skate was not affected and after the birth of her second daughter, she had the opportunity to join the Dolls. Her friend, Vaudeville Vixen Mustang, invited her to try-out for the league.
Doppelgänger made it through 14 weeks of boot camp and three rounds of cuts. She estimated 50 women tried out, noting there are only spots open when someone leaves the league.
“It was a fun summer,” Dopplegänger said.
J.L. Breaker is in her third year with the league but due to her work commitments requiring to travel outside the state, she was unable to attend practices. Before being bench manger, she was a blocker.
“So while I can’t skate, I am helping my team as a bench manager this season,” she said.
She began her foray into derby in March 2007 when she went to see a bout at Madison’s only remaining roller rink, Fast Forward, after hearing a few of the skaters on the radio and reading an Isthmus article by Harlot Bronte.
“I was immediately hooked and transported back in time remembering how much I loved to roller skate as a kid,” J.L. Breaker said.
When tryout dates were announced, she joined 32 other women for the first day and made it through the first round of cuts. After drills and an interview she became one of 27 to make it to the next phase.
From July to October 2007, she was a Baby Doll, practicing two hours a day for three to four days a week and hoping to make one of the home teams.
“In October, decisions were made and I was lucky enough to be one of 13 girls that were drafted,” J.L. Breaker said. “As the reality set in, I wondered what I was thinking. At 33 years old, having never played sports, in high school I earned a varsity letter for managing the boy’s soccer team, I was part of a sports team that involved lots of hard hitting contact.”
The teams practice at Fast Forward at least three times a week plus conditioning and team practices. The skaters all wear protective gear including helmets, mouth guards, wrist guards, elbow pads and kneepads. To further prevent injury, the skaters even practice the best and least harmful way to fall.
Many people who know Dopplegänger are not surprised when they learn she joined the Mad Rollin Dolls.
“They just kind of say ‘oh, OK,’ just because they know I’ve been skating for so long,” she said.
“I like it when my family and friends come to see me,” Dopplegänger said. “It’s just so much fun to have faces that I know sitting out there, watching me.”
J.L. Breaker has found a different reaction when she tells people she skates with the Madison league.
“People are always shocked to find out I play roller derby,” she replied. “I am 5’2” and not really competitive, so when people find out I love to put on skates and hit other girls they are always surprised.”
Doppelgänger’s family was a bit worried about her skating and even had a pool going as to when she would break her first bone. So far, no one has won as the skater’s most severe injury was a dislocated shoulder during warm-ups at practice, which she said was more embarrassing than painful.
Doppelgänger’s oldest daughter, who is four-years-old, wishes her mom good luck before a bout and after each event, asks if her mom went to the penalty box.
“She kind of imagines it’s like time-out. So she always goes ‘Mom, did you go to the penalty box because you hit one of your friends?’ So, that’s big for her,” the skater said. “And my husband’s really proud of me because it’s something I really, really love. He’s been very supportive.”
J.L. Breaker, who has been married for 10 years, said her husband has been very supportive of derby.
“Living outside of Madison, we would carpool to work and then he would work late or run errands while I was at weeknight practices.”
Doppelgänger really enjoys meeting all of the people she has met in derby; once she joined the league it was like getting 80 new friends. And among these women are moms, teachers, scientists, hair dressers and students who range in ages from 21 (the minimum age to join) to their 50s.
Her favorite part of derby is being able to get out of the house and the fact it’s a great stress reliever. It’s also a great way to exercise.
J.L Breaker expressed similar sentiments, noting it is difficult to choose a single favorite part about being part of the Mad Rollin Dolls.
“The sisterhood of it probably ranks pretty high up for me. It has been an incredible experience being involved with this amazing group of supportive and positive women,” she said. “We may be competitive when we play each other, but there is also a lot of encouragement and positive feedback on and off the track. It’s also a killer workout and so much fun!”
The skater credits derby for helping her become a stronger, more assertive and confident person.
The names of the derby skaters are often times puns based on famous names – Joan of Anarchy and Keyser Suze, or plays on words or phrases – Allie Gator and Charlie Hustle. Some are simply single words like Mouse, Predator, Maverick and Ninja.
Doppelgänger chose her name because a doppelgänger is a person’s double, saying she feels she has a different life as a skater. Also, seeing a doppelgänger is a death omen and since her parents thought she would get herself killed while skating Doppelgänger saw herself as her own fatality.
J.L. Breaker said she had some difficulty trying to find a name, noting there is a register of names already taken by national derby athletes. Her husband found a Web site with puns where the athlete came upon her name.
“When he read J.L. Breaker, it made me laugh,” she said. “It also seemed very appropriate since roller derby has allowed me to break free from the cubicles or corporate work life.”
Joining derby allowed the both women to get out and meet more people and try new things. J.L Breaker has participated in events she might not have done, like participating in the Polar Plunge for Special Olympics of Wisconsin.
Derby has allowed her to meet different people locally, but also nationally.
“I have spent time with colleagues in the state of Oregon over the last two years and was welcomed with open arms to leagues out there who let me attend their practices,” J.L. Breaker replied. “It has also been exciting to watch some of my colleagues who live in Oregon join roller derby out there.”
So who does someone who dresses like a Quad Squad superhero on a regular basis look up to? Her own mom, who she credits for getting her on skates at a young age.
“I really do appreciate her for putting me on skates,” the skater said. “Through all my life skating’s been really important to me.”
Doppelgänger also looks up to the other women in derby who offer advice and pointers. She said it’s a nice feeling because everyone cares about each other.
“I like to say we are positive role models in the community,” she said.
J.L Breaker may not have a specific role model, but admires people willing to try something new or follow their dreams in addition to those who are willing to show up and work hard for what they want to attain.
And the three-year veterans advice to anyone who wants to join the Mad Rollin Dolls?
“Go for it! You never know what is possible or what you can do unless you try,” the Reservoir Doll explained. “If you have never roller skated or haven’t skated in years, put on some skates and give it a shot,
“You will be amazed at how much you can learn and grow with from practice and determination,” J.L. Breaker concluded.
About a bout
Before entering the arena, leave all presumptions about what you will see out in the parking lot. Any stereotypes about who attends or participates in derby will soon be gone upon entering the track area. People from all walks of life will be attending; there is no typical derby fan. There are college students, elderly men, and many families supporting the Vaudeville Vixens, Unholy Rollers, Quad Squad and Reservoir Dolls.
Like any other sports event, the fans wear the team colors with pride; it is no surprise to see people wearing pink yoga pants, young boys wearing black shirts with white ties like the Reservoir Dolls or people dressed up in their own ‘team’ uniforms.
Also, like many sports, there are concessions and a small stand to purchase Doll–related items like shirts, programs, hats, pins and bags. During the Pirate Party, there were also eye patches, fake hooks and foam swords.
In the crowd there is cheering, encouraging signs, and, during the Pirate Party, fencing with foam swords. Between bouts it is not uncommon to see Dolls talking to attendees and posing for pictures. After the evening’s events, they sign autographs in the packed lobby area.
Calling these women athletes is correct, but that is only the surface of what they represent. They are role models, volunteers, and goodwill ambassadors. They are mothers, daughters, sisters, co-workers and friends. But if you’re on an opposing team and meet them on the track, they are fierce competitors who will use their physical prowess to get you out of the way.
Seating is first come, first seat with some of the seats being filled in first are on the floor next to the 10-foot line radius. People will carry in blankets and folding camp-style chairs, planting themselves almost directly on the red line.
You may find yourself sitting between Gigi String, the mother of the Mad Rollin’ Dolls founder, and the family and friends of SugaLumps (#1 or 2 on the Vaudeville Vixens).
Gigi String’s daughter, Crackerjack, decided to bring the league to Madison after visiting her sister, Lucille Brawl, who was a member of the Austin, Texas derby league. The volunteer will gladly offer up how the idea was born in her spare room and scattered around the city through the use of fliers.
According to her, Madison was the sixth league in the nation; there are now 80 total leagues in the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.
Many people volunteer with the league. They are the ones who will gladly give you advice on the best way to watch derby (start by focusing on the jammer and once you understand how points are scored start concentrating on the pack) and strategies needed to prevent the opposing jammer from scoring.
Also, if they know you are new to derby, the volunteers will ask you if you have any questions, ask you if you enjoyed the event, and say they hope to see you at the next bout.
During the last two bouts, the 1,500 seats have sold out. It is recommended to purchase tickets in advance. Tickets can be purchased in advance at the price of $10 for adults, $5 for children ages 4 to 9 and free for those younger than 4 years old. If there are tickets still available the night of the bout the prices are $12 for adults, $6 for children ages 4-9 and free for those younger than 4 years old.
Dolls in the community
Off the track, the Mad Rollin’ Dolls keep themselves busy with philanthropic works with many organizations and events. Looking at the events they participate in to raise funds and awareness it seems any week there isn’t a bout, these women can be seen doing positive work in the community.
A percentage of the proceeds from each home event are donated to a pre-selected charity. This season, they have chosen to give money to the Dane County Humane Society, Rape Crisis Center, Gay Straight Alliance for Safe Schools, AIDS Network, NAMI Dane County, Women in Transition, and Madison Audubon Society.
Past charities have included Porchlight, Inc.; Make a Wish Foundation of Wisconsin; Ridgewood Apartment Fire Victims; Gilda’s Club; League of Women Voters; and Madison Creative Arts Program.
Dolls have also participated in several well known Madison events including Art Fair on the Square; Madison Area Music Awards; Halloween at the Zoo; AIDS Walk, Roll and Stroll; Girls on the Run chapters; Maxwell Street Days; and Madison Area Down Syndrome Society’s “Lose the Training Wheels” Bike Camp.
The league has also offered support to Second Harvest Food Bank of Southern Wisconsin; Madison Friends of International Students; Madison Area Youth Soccer Association; United Way of Dane County; and American Red Cross.
The Mad Rollin’ Dolls admit they have a special relationship with the city because it has supported them since the league’s inception in 2004. In turn, they try to give back as much as they receive.