By Jacquie Simone
During the day, 37-year-old Sue Dozoretz listens to ambient music as she gently massages customers at Finger Lakes School of Massage. But at night, she transforms into CamArrow and spends her time slamming into opponents as she skates around the rink, egged on by the cheering crowds and the thuds of flesh on the floor.
This is the world of roller derby. Dozoretz is a co-captain of the SufferJets, Ithaca’s all-female team. They finished their home season Saturday night with a 140-101 win against the Derby Debutantes from Greater Toronto. From May through October, the SufferJets won four of their home games and lost only one.
“[Roller derby] must have had some sort of pull,” Dozoretz said. “I think it was the physical nature of the sport and also the theatrical nature of it—the personal, creative expression that every skater is allowed to have.”
Roller derby has been played sporadically since the 1950s, but the most recent incarnation of the sport has a distinct punk aesthetic. Skaters choose often-humorous aliases and are encouraged to personalize their helmets. Roller derby has recently garnered mainstream attention, particularly from the Drew Barrymore film “Whip It,” which opened earlier this month. (Below: Members of the SufferJets, in gray, compete against the Derby Debutantes, in pink, during the Oct. 10 bout at Cass Park.)
At the start of each bout, or match, five players from each team skate onto the circuit track. The defense for each team is composed of three blockers and one pivot, who wears a striped helmet cover. The offense is one jammer per team, who wears a starred helmet cover. Once the referee blows a whistle, the defensive pack starts skating, with the pivots setting the pace. With a second whistle, the jammers start skating. The jammers score points each time they legally pass an opposing blocker or pivot in the pack. Opponents push skaters to prevent each other from passing. Teams have 2-minute “jams” during which they can score points. Bouts consist of 30-minute halves.
“There’s a lot of strategy,” Dozoretz said. “It’s not just rock’em, sock’em. It’s a great sport.”
Dozoretz joined the SufferJets in May 2008 after she read an article about the team in the newspaper. She used to roller skate and said she was interested in the physical and strategic aspects of the sport. After a tryout to make sure she had a basic skill level, she spent a few months practicing before her first bout in August 2008.
“I sat in the locker room and I almost walked out,” Dozortez said, remembering her first bout. “I almost took my skates off and ran out the door. I thought I was going to puke.”
Now, as a co-captain, she often leads the SufferJets’ practices. Her coworkers and 9-year-old son, Max, often come to bouts to cheer her on with the rest of the large fan base.
The SufferJets was created in 2007 when a group of women began commuting to practice with a roller derby team in Auburn. They soon decided to recruit other Ithaca women and start their own team. The SufferJets had their first home bout in May 2008. Since then, they have grown to a team of around 20 women between the ages of 20 and almost 50. They practice about three times a week at Cass Park.
SufferJets founder Kitty Gifford, known as “Charmain Meow” in the rink, said most teams have a grassroots organization.
“Every single person here is putting in their effort to make this happen,” Gifford said. “It’s a different sort of organization than if you just went out and played ball. We have to build the whole structure of it.”
As the SufferJets’ name suggests, roller derby has a strong feminist component because it is a very physical sport dominated by women.
“I think it’s hugely important for women to have an outlet and that kind of experience in their lives,” Dozoretz said. “It’s empowering.”
The team also maintains a commitment to local charities. They donate a portion of their ticket sales to non-profits in Ithaca. Gifford said this civic initiative has increased awareness of the team and helped the local community. Proceeds from Saturday night’s bout were given to Ithaca’s Big Brothers Big Sisters.
With the end of the home season, the SufferJets will move their practices to Beverly J. Martin Elementary School. Due to increased interest in the sport, they plan to create a new Ithaca team, called Bluestockings. Their fans said they are already looking forward to next year’s season.
“It’s fun to see women in a sport,” fan Melanie Prinzing said. “We love to see the girls doing something tough but also really cool.”
This video incorporates interviews with members of Ithaca's all-female roller derby team, the SufferJets, as well as footage from their practice on Oct. 6 and their Oct. 10 bout against the Greater Toronto Derby Debutantes. In the bout, the SufferJets are wearing gray and the Debutantes are wearing pink.