When Dana Hayes, 26, of Windham, was growing up in South Florida, she never considered herself an athlete or a competitor. How things have changed.
Today, Hayes is a national-caliber roller derby athlete, complete with the moniker “Grim D. Mise,” and a shot at making the Team USA. She has traded in the in-line skates for traditional quad skates – plus full body protective gear – and competes both locally and regionally. In July she traveled to Pennsylvania for a round of tryouts for the national roller derby team, and in August she will head for Seattle for a second tryout.
Hayes’ transformation from recreational skater to competitive athlete began five years ago when she was living in Oakland. Involved in a difficult relationship, she says she needed a hobby. Her love of skating drew her to roller derby.
It’s the skating that drives her today.
“I’m a happy person in general, but when I’m skating I feel 100 percent complete,” she says.
But there’s much more to roller derby than propelling oneself at breakneck speed on eight wheels.
“Bruises are common,” Hayes laughs.
Protective gear includes a helmet, elbow and knee pads, wrist guards, and a mouth guard.
It also helps to be fearless, Hayes says.
“You have to be masochistic to play. At first I was scared to death,” she adds. “I have done a lot of mental training.”
She’s also done a lot of physical training. Her Maine Roller Derby team, the Port Authorities, practices several times weekly at either the Portland Exposition Building or Happy Wheels. She does regular off-skate training, and tries to get in time at Auburn’s Rollodrome.
“Any time is a good time to skate,” she says.
Modern-day roller derby has come a long way from the banked-track leagues of decades ago. Teams carry 14 players each, five of whom skate at a time. Four skaters serve as “the pack,” and the fifth as the “jammer,” who is responsible for scoring team points. Roller derby games are known as “bouts,” and are divided into “jams,” which last for a maximum of two minutes. Points are scored when the jammer gets through the opposing team’s pack.
“I have to explain the game a lot,” says Hayes, who is a jammer. “But the sport is growing. It’s picking up steam.”
And in the process, Hayes says she has grown.
“Since I’ve joined, my skills have helped develop me as a person,” she says. “I’m an athlete now. I’ve never been able to say that. I really enjoy the competition and strategizing.”
That passion for the sport carried Hayes far into the Team USA tryouts held in Pennsylvania earlier this summer. Of about 100 women trying out, Hayes was among 32 who advanced beyond skills tests into the scrimmage portion of the event. She hopes that she’ll have similar success in Seattle, with the goal of competing with the U.S. team in the World Cup next December. In the meantime, she’ll practice locally, as well as participate in “boot camps” out of state. She pays all of her own expenses, relying on her income from working at a local Subway and a Portland skate shop.
Exposing spectators to roller derby – including first-time observers at local bouts – “all add to the legitimacy of the sport,” she says.
“It’s really athletic,” she says. “There’s heat and passion.”
That – plus the desire to skate “until I’m 50 and beyond” – are what keep Dana Hayes in the game.