by Jennifer Rose Clapper

My given name is Jennifer Rose Clapper, but for the last 2 years, I've gone by M'Atom Bomb, “the most destructive invention of the 20th century.”  I'm a proud member of the Peoria Push Derby Dames and I play roller derby.

On the surface, roller derby looks like a bunch of scantily clad women in fishnets hitting each other, mixed with some showboating, and the occasional injury. I can tell you from personal experience that it's so much more. Roller derby is a life changer and it changed mine for the best.

I'll divulge the derby stories and secrets along the way, but this introductory piece is to tell you what roller derby means to me. I'll try to keep it short, because I could go on and on.

Derby is an experience, some would say a lifestyle, and the experience varies for every skater. For me, it has been a group of empowered women from all backgrounds and walks of life coming together.

We, on the Push, are ER nurses, social workers, waitresses, teachers, engineers, stay-at-home mothers, the list goes on. We come together to our common place- the track- and let it all out.  Work stress, family stress, day-to-day annoyances- they can all be left on the track.  We knock each other down and pick each other up almost in the same breath.

After a long day of serving tables at One World, and taking care of a preciously rambunctious 4 year old and my darling Mr. M'Atom, I find peace when I lace up.  I know that I can get out there and look at a derby sister and say, “I needed this,” and she'll know precisely what I mean.  Most of us are busy mommas with full-time jobs and a household to nurture and maintain.  Derby is an outlet for the every day woman. Our bodies and minds get the exercise and release that they need and deserve.

Derby is a sisterhood.  A family.  This is the most significant definition of roller derby. My immediate family is in Connecticut. I moved here in 2006 for college (let's be honest, it was for a boy) and have never really felt at home here until I joined the Push.

At the time of my induction, I was single and simply wondering, going through the motions.   I found a purpose and people who cared about my purpose soon after starting to play roller derby.  There were people who asked if I had a good day or a bad day and reciprocated with similar feelings and frustrations.  What? Somewhere I- the obnoxiously abrasive New Englander stuck in Peoria- belonged? Was understood?  Wasn't judged?  Say it ain't so! I was ecstatic.

It was not until the tragic passing of my younger brother in December of 2010 that I felt that extension of FAMILY to the highest degree.

I was informed of the accident while at practice and my sisters pulled together for me when I simply could not.  They even sent a floral arrangement for my Brother, Johnny, signed by the PUSH. Upon my arrival after a week home for the funeral and other services, I walked into my house that had been cleaned and revamped while I was gone.  A clean slate.  My house was decorated with robots (our retired home team's mascot), polka dots and flowers, the refrigerator was stocked with food, a Christmas tree was put up and had gifts and sympathy cards bustling over the tree skirt.  I was never alone; they had visiting shifts to make sure I was okay and if I wasn't, that I had company.  I honestly don't know how I would have survived that profoundly distraught and completely heartbroken time in my life if it weren't for the women of the Peoria Push- my family away from family.  I thank them from the bottom of my heart.

On a completely lighter note, since I sometimes dive into the rawness of my reality yet still want to end on a high- roller derby is a damn good time.  The sentimental aspect is deeply rooted within derby, but ultimately, it is FUN.  The skaters have a blast playing and the fans have a blast watching us pummel each other.  We get to travel and have many visiting teams and meet lots of like-minded women from all over the Midwest.  We kick some booty-shorts wearing tush for an hour and end the night with pizza, a cocktail and a dance party.  There's not much more one could ask for: empowerment, family and fun.

I can sincerely express that roller derby has saved my soul.  I found a place where I don't have to filter myself.  I can set and reach personal goals.  My self-esteem and self-worth is glowing when I am on skates.  I am surrounded by women that I know will be my friends for life.  We will be in our 70's, 80's, or 90's (we range in age, people!)  reliving the glory days with our grandkids who will know their grannies were badasses.  But for now, and until then, I'm having and will continue to have the time of my life and all because of derby.

I implore all readers to come check out the Peoria PUSH at the Civic Center on September 29th, doors are at 5 pm and the first whistle is at 6 pm.  Be a part of our derby community. All are welcome!

Hugs & Bruises,
M'Atom Bomb