Rolling Over the Opposition
Driving home one evening from her job at a medical lab in Providence, Rhode Island—she’s studying the effects of alcohol on sleep—Julie Coffey Taitano ’04 heard a radio ad for an upcoming roller derby bout. She went along, thought, “Wow, I could do this,” and signed up.
Now, when she skates onto the unforgiving concrete of the outdoor rink in downtown Providence, she becomes Julietta Vendetta, a Sakonnet River Roller Rat. Like her teammates, she wears a tight neon green top, torn black shorts or mini skirt, and fishnet stockings. During a recent bout, the Roller Rats skated against The Mod Squad, another Providence team, to a thumping soundtrack that Vendetta describes as “radioactive futuristic rap.” The aesthetic, she says, “is a cross between D.I.Y. punk and Mad Max apocalyptic.”
Taitano chose the alias Julietta Vendetta after learning roller derby skills and passing a skating test. She admits she wasn’t much of an athlete at Reed—she didn’t play an organized sport like rugby, for instance, which would have prepared her for the rough-and-tumble of roller derby. But she says she’s never been in better shape. “My calf muscles,” she boasts, “are huge.”
Roller derby’s resurgence—there are now approximately 45 all-women leagues across the country—has been attributed to its combination of athleticism and theatricality. Taitano says that back in the ’70s and ’80s, roller derby matches—complete with dramatic wipe-outs and vicious brawls—were often staged. Today’s bouts, she says, place a premium on skating skill. “All the competitions are real,” she says. “The results are never fixed.”
Taitano, who majored in psychology at Reed, is in Providence because her husband, Andrew Taitano (they married in June 2004), is a medical student at Brown University. She finds the roller-derby practice schedule—three nights a week for two hours—ideal because it matches his grueling med school routine. In her spare time she helps manage the league, which is skater-owned and operated, serving as treasurer, and working on PR and marketing (Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline, among other local figures, is a huge fan).
There are five women on a roller derby team—a jammer, a pivot, and three blockers. The pivot sets the pace. The jammer is the point-scoring player. Taitano is a blocker: She helps her jammer, Hysterica!, break through the opposing pack of skaters and make it around the rink first, while blocking the jammer of the opposing team.
“There are strict rules about what kinds of body checks are legal,” says Taitano. “You can only block from elbow to shoulder, but it’s definitely a full contact sport.” Being a blocker suits her, she adds, because, “I’m a little bigger than some of the girls. I’m able to hit people a little harder.”