ITHACA, N.Y.—Each Tuesday and Thursday, from 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m., Ithaca Roller Derby members zoom across the floor in the repurposed former Old Navy space at the Ithaca Mall, as coaches blow whistles and yell instructions for the skaters to follow.
Sporting helmets with an array of stickers and protective padding on their knees and elbows, the skaters perform a set regimen of exercises to warm up: skating in circles, stopping in place, etc.
Founded in 2008, the Ithaca Roller Derby — also known as the Ithaca League of Women Rollers — is a non-profit roller derby league that consists of four teams: The Ithaca SufferJets, the BlueStockings, the Grueling Gorgeous and the Raging Rapids.
The Ithaca SufferJets, a travel team that competes nationally and internationally, is sanctioned by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), which means that their games are counted towards the WFTDA rankings, while the other teams are not sanctioned by the WFTDA.
Juliana Garcia, captain of the Ithaca Sufferjets, said she participated in the Ithaca Roller Derby’s new skaters program in 2013. After finding out that her friends were leaving Ithaca after graduating from Cornell University in 2014, Garcia knew she wanted to find community.
“I’ve always been involved in sports and things like that, so that was kind of the driving force,” said Garcia, who goes by the nickname JAG on the team. “A lot of skaters will tell you that they kind of catch the derby bug as soon as they start. It’s just a really fun sport and it’s like a great community of people. So it’s easy to get pulled in.”
Carly Alanouf, also known as the Grin Reaper, said she started January 2023 and has skated on the Blue Stockings and the Grilling Gorgers, but decided to step back from contact. However, she still goes to the games, coaches the junior team and practices with the adult teams.
Alanouf said she encourages people to join Ithaca Roller Derby because of the impact it has had on her life.
“You’re your own worst critic,” Alanouf said. “I hate feeling like I am struggling with something. When I first started out, I was just trying not to beat myself up. But that’s where the coaches are so supportive when we’re starting to learn and then the other teammates that help out the new skaters are so supportive.”
The COVID-19 pandemic posed a few challenges for the derby, including a significant decrease in members and a lack of practice time. This eventually led to the league losing its original space. But Garcia said a few dedicated skaters were able to secure the space at The Shops at Ithaca Mall, creating some renewed stability for the league.
The pandemic did generate something that helped the organization: more people yearning for a way to connect with others. That desire led Areya Muraca to join the team earlier this year. She was searching for community as the pandemic continued but social restrictions faded.
Muraca, also known as Stingray, said she first joined the Ithaca Roller Derby in January 2023 after following it since 2019. Muraca said she had difficulties skating and adjusting to playing a team sport again for the first time since high school, but the community kept her coming back.
“When I started it was really hard at first getting my body used to skating regularly because it uses a lot of different muscles that you don’t use all the time when you’re walking or running,” Muraca said. “I’ve been skating for about nine months and I feel like my body is finally starting to get to a point where I’m used to skating now.”
Overall, though, Garcia said retaining new skaters is difficult because of the large number of college students who join and eventually leave after they graduate. That often leaves the organization in some state of flux.
“We are a nonprofit, and we’re skater-run, and that is incredibly difficult because we’re maintaining the whole structure of doing recruitment and doing PR and marketing,” Garcia said. “So we’re trying to do it all by ourselves, which can be really difficult […] you’re already skating two days a week and traveling the games but then you also have to do the business side of it.”
Danny Robles, who is a referee, said he joined the Ithaca Roller Derby for his three-year-old daughter to engage in something centered on women’s empowerment. The passion and dedication exhibited by the skaters has kept Robles around since he joined the league in 2019.
“They’re very welcoming and it really feels like a positive outlet for a lot of people,” Robles said. “The fact that this is a female-dominated sport is the reason why I joined.”
All of the teams accept women ages 18 and up. However, there is a junior league for girls ages 8-17.
The Ithaca Roller Derby is competing in the Women’s Flat Track Derby Associate 2023 league after a three-year hiatus. The team’s next bout is Oct. 14, which will be Halloween-themed, at the Shops at Ithaca Mall—or the Ithaca Maul, as the team calls it.
Correction: Carly Alanouf’s name was initially misspelled. It has been corrected.