Welcome to another edition of Away from the Pack. This installment features none other than #31 Helen Darink, League Manager/President of the Lehigh Valley Rollergirls. Helen had been on the disabled list since the April 3, 2011 bout against Harrisburg, where she suffered a broken collarbone. Now scrimmage ready she is back at practice and raring to go.
What is your position on the team?
I’m a jammer and I’m a pivot on the track; off the track I’m the [league] President.
Tell me about your alter ego. How did you come up with your name and what kind of persona do you like to project when you are bouting?
Well, my husband helped me come up with the name because once I started looking at that roster of like thousands of names everything I thought was really trendy or kind of cute it was already taken. So my husband came up with Helen Darink. Actually Helen was one of the names that we had picked for one of our boys [laughs], but we never got to use it so I’m using it myself.
I would say Helen is a lot more aggressive and very in charge on the track.
How did you first become involved with or hear about roller derby?
I live in Berks County, so I had read an article about a neighboring league to the south of where I live and they had referred me to Lehigh Valley Rollergirls because it was a closer commute, it would be only 19miles instead of the 50 that I was going to drive.
So I emailed the team and let them know that I was coming to a practice and asked if that was ok, and they said sure and I’ve been there ever since. That was in July, 2007 so I never left after my first one.
How do you think rollergirls are stereotyped?
I’d say the stereotype is very aggressive girls, a lot of punk sort of infused I would say, but that was when I started back in 2007 that’s the idea I had and that’s what the girls played up. But now it’s becoming very athletic, very much a sport where girls are in the same uniforms, they are exercising outside of just roller derby practice and you know it’s not the bar scene and stuff like it used to be.
Do you like that punk, aggressive portrayal or would you like to see that change?
I like the women’s aggressive sports, yes.
What is your favorite part of the sport?
I like running the league as a business and a sport obviously. Right now I’m a stay at home mom, so this is kind of like my thing that I get to do and it’s helping my identity of being more than just a mom. But I like the whole business aspect of it and just educating people about roller derby; that it’s not flying elbows and girls fighting and that it is real. It’s a full contact sport for women.
How many children do you have?
And how old are you if you don’t mind me asking?
I’m going to be 40 this year!
That’s great! I’m noticing in roller derby there’s a wide range of ages that are active in it.
Yes and body types.
What’s your least favorite thing about the sport?
The injuries. In April Harrisburg broke my collarbone, so I got a 5” plate put in to put my collarbone back together. I’m on injury leave right now, but hopefully when I go to the doctor in two weeks [editor’s note: This interview was conducted 7/16], he gives me permission to do contact again. I could be out there on the track by August I’m hoping.
So you sound like you’re ready to go. One of the questions I was going to ask was about getting an injury, does that make you sort of think, “Maybe I don’t want to get back out there?” Do you feel nervous?
No it’s giving me more rage. Its just made me, you know, feel more aggression and I just want to get out there and do some big hits and win a game.
What is one of your favorite things about the people you play with?
I like the variety of everyone, you have family people, you have very professional business women, we have artists, so just meeting everybody and having them come together for this one goal of the team is just outstanding.
Do you still see yourself playing derby 10 years from now, say when you are 50?
Yes, if I am not skating I will be involved in the league one way or another.
Were you nervous when you first started in derby, going to your first practice and all?
Yes, because I didn’t come in with a fresh meat class which is what we do now. It was just me coming in saying, “I’m interested in this, I would like to do this.” I hadn’t been on skates in 20 years when I first showed up except I skated around my kitchen in my skates like the day before.
Do you think the girls get along most of the time?
Yeah, you have some really strong personalities, some Type A’s but you’re gonna have that no matter where you go.
What is your favorite derby moment/memory?
Probably the first bout where I jammed, It was a double-header and I played with our B team first and I had a really good game jamming. My whole family was there, it was really great for everybody to see. So that’s probably my most favorite.
You mentioned that you are a stay at home mom with four children. How do you balance your ‘real life’ with derby life?
A giant calendar in my dining room, it’s up on the wall. My husband’s an ultra runner; he does hundred mile races, so he does a lot of training. I make it be a priority for me because this is something I love to do. What I do is, I put the big calendar up in the dining room, everybody gets a color, all of my derby practices are penciled in just like the kids baseball and soccer, cross-country, track and everything else and I have my time for practice just like they do.
What role do you think that Lehigh Valley Rollergirls play in the community at large?
I like to see us working with a lot of charities, we are working on becoming a non-profit organization ourselves, so helping out any type of charity or non-profit organization benefits everyone. Like collecting things for food drives or animal shelters, just helping people is really one of our main goals.
Where do you see roller derby as a sport in say 10-20 years? Expanding? Gone? A Fad?
I hope it’s either in the X-games or there’s actually an Olympic sport. That would be a dream come true.
Do you have any advice for people thinking about checking roller derby out?
I’d say first come out and see what it’s all about. We do have some tight commitments because we are competing on a national and east coast level. Check it out; if it’s something that you’re interested in, it helps keep you in shape. This is actually my gym membership, that’s what I treat it as. If you are sick of going to the gym, join a roller derby team!
Is there anything people would be surprised to know about you?
Just that I play roller derby, because I don’t fit a mold of someone that plays roller derby. I don’t sport any tattoos. When I tell people I play roller derby they’re like, “Really? You don’t look like a roller derby girl.” And I’m like well what does a roller derby girl look like? And then they start describing somebody aggressive more of a punk look to them and I really don’t have that; I play roller derby and I have four kids.
Slideshow photography credit: Ruth Rohrer
Stay tuned for the next edition of Away from the Pack coming soon! You can also read this article on examiner.com
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