Whipping around the skating oval, Christina DiCristofano gets knocked down. She bounces up, only to get knocked out of bounds by another opponent.
DiCristofano, competing under the nickname “Riot,” goes on to tussle and bang with members of the other team as her scoring opportunity concludes.
Her gritty effort nets just two points for the Aurora 88s, but such is life for a roller derby jammer.
DiCristofano and fellow jammer Lauren Virnoche, competing under the nickname “Grim Gardens,” lead the point barrage as the 88s easily handle the Mississippi Valley Mayhem, 211-115, in Saturday’s match at the Aurora Skate Center.
DiCristofano, who grew up in and still lives in Aurora, said she became aware of the team while searching online for a way to be active. The rink where she would skate around as a youth is now her playground as an adult.
“I had always heard about roller derby, but didn’t know there was one (team) right in my hometown. I looked it up, found it, went to an info session and the rest is history as they say,” DiCristofano said.
She went through a boot camp to learn about the skills involved in the sport and to prepare for a tryout. DiCristofano said the team is pretty lenient in the tryout process.
“As long as you are safe on skates and willing to learn, we really encourage anyone to get on the rink and the track,” she said.
DiCristofano has been part of the Aurora 88s for a little more than a year now and loves being part of the group.
“It’s been just like a new family for me,” the 25-year-old jammer said, “and it’s pretty much the perfect sport. During the first scrimmage I was ever a part of, Ana Mall (Ana Prendergast), one of our other players who’s been involved in the league and very experienced, was next to me. I was like, ‘This is the sport for me. I love this’ and she was like “Right?’ It was a very special moment.”
A regulatory specialist, DiCristofano said juggling the three-hour practices twice a week can be a struggle for her and other team members.
“Everyone here is a mother or full-time worker or both and doing a lot of other things,” she said. “… It can be tough and tiring, for sure.”
Lori Smerz, whose last name, ironically enough, is the German translation for the word “pain,” said it was a television episode that got her hooked on roller derby.
“There was a specific ‘Laverne & Shirley’ episode where they’re playing roller derby and as a kid I said, ‘I want to do that someday,’” Smerz said. “So now, to be an adult and fulfilling that statement is my favorite part of the whole journey.”
She remembers spending weekends at the Oak Lawn Roller Rink.
Smerz competes under the nickname “Tail Spinner,” which comes from her love of skating and her time as a professional Hula Hoop instructor.
The senior member of the squad, Smerz, of St. Charles, said she gets enjoyment from the sport where she is competing with players nearly half her age.
“It’s a nice stress reliever. I also like to think it keeps me young because I am the oldest on the team,” said Smerz, who said her age is “more than 45.”
Smerz said it is vital to have the endurance to keep up with the competition and be able to handle the physicality of the sport.
“It takes some skill. You have to think about timing, think about placement,” Smerz said. “You have to hit somebody out (of bounds) without going out yourself. There’s some skill in that as well so it’s not just about brute force. You have to have some agility as well to do it correctly.”
Smerz said spectators won’t see the theatrics of 1970s roller derby when they go to a bout these days.
“For us, it’s pure athleticism and joy,” she said. “I think we all have a sense of pleasure in playing roller derby.”
Being a substitute teacher, as well as a brand ambassador for Chicago Parent magazine and running her own business of cooking lessons and cooking birthday parties keeps Smerz hopping. Adding roller derby and going to the gym to stay in shape to the mix just adds to the chaos, Smerz said.
“You use every minute of free time. That is it,” Smerz said. “I usually take one day off a week and that is it.”