The Secret Lives of Martinos Folk: Skating to the Roller Derby World Cup

Gary Boas

Eszter Boros is no stranger to sports. As a teenager in Switzerland she played tennis competitively, advancing several times to the finals in the national junior championships. And even after giving this up to focus on her studies in chemistry, she continued to stay active—running, cycling and even completing triathlons.

But roller derby … roller derby was a new one.

“Growing up in Europe, I had no concept of what roller derby was,” she says. “During graduate school in Vancouver, I saw Vancouver’s roller derby team practice on campus a few times, next to the tennis courts. I was intrigued, but I knew I couldn’t roller skate…”

Never say never, of course. After moving to Boston to begin a postdoctoral fellowship at the MGH Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging—working in Peter Caravan’s lab developing new metal-based imaging agents—Boros started exploring new sports she could play. One day on a whim, after seeing the Drew Barrymore movie “Whip It” on TV, she decided to look into roller derby.

Dating back to the 1930s, roller derby is a contact sport in which two teams of five skate around a track. Each team designates a player—the “jammer”—who scores points by lapping members of the other team. By the 1970s roller derby had become an elaborate form of sports entertainment with predetermined outcomes (think professional wrestling on wheels). It has since jettisoned this, though, and while some of the theatrical elements remain—players use pseudonyms, like Lil’ Paine and Catherine the Irate—it is once again a fully unscripted competitive sport.

Boros got in touch with Boston’s roller derby league and, in March of last year, was invited to the warehouse in Somerville where the league practices. One of the players lent her skates and gear so she could take a spin around the track. After “three laps of wobbly skating” she was hooked.

Today, barely more than a year later, she skates with the Boston Massacre, the A-level All-Star team of the Boston Derby Dames. An interleague travel team, the Massacre is currently ranked 17th in the world by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.

And she hasn’t stopped there. In December, she will also skate for Team Switzerland in the Roller Derby World Cup in Dallas.

Roller derby isn’t easy. Practice is a serious time commitment—Boros skates between 8 and 10 hours a week—and practice alone isn’t enough to keep up with the best, she says. Strength and endurance training is essential for any full contact sport, especially for injury prevention, so she also spends two hours a week with Crossfit and still runs when she can.

It’s worth it, though, in no small part because it helps her unwind after long days of conducting research. “Being part of this team and league is incredibly rewarding,” she says. “No matter how many experiments and reactions go awry during the day, I know that, as soon as I put on my skates, the day will get better.”

In the photo above: Members of the Boston Derby Dames in 2012. Photo by David Salafia.