Q&A: Roller Derby Player Jessica Lider

Body checks and broken wrists—yup, that’s roller derby.

Jessica Lider

Did your teacher look like this? Photo by Allana Taranto, provided

When you were in school, your teacher was probably the cardigan-wearing, book report-assigning type—not an extreme sports junkie. But Jessica Lider, aka Lil’ Paine, is a coach and a jammer (find out what that means below) for one of Boston’s four Derby Dames roller derby teams (she plays for the Boston Massacre), all while teaching in the Boston Public School system. Yeah, safe to say we’re impressed.

Most people don’t know much about roller derby—what’s it all about?

Roller derby is a contest between two teams who each play five players on the track at once. Four of the skaters are blockers and one of the players is a jammer; you can spot her by the star on her helmet. The point of the game is to help your jammer pass your opponents, scoring a point each time she does. While you help your own jammer, you must also stop the other team’s jammer from scoring on you. Stopping the other team’s jammer means lots of big checks and blocking and it is very exciting to watch.

How and when did you get into roller derby? What drew you to it? 

I spent a lot of weekends growing up in New Bedford at the local roller rink, Hot Wheels. I really loved the speed and athleticism of skating. When I was a teenager and very into playing sports, I used to daydream about the roller derby I’d seen briefly on TV after Saturday morning cartoons. I thought it would amazingly fun and I suspected I’d really take to it. Flash forward to many years later and I was a graduate student looking for housing in Jamaica Plain. I went to tour an apartment and one of my potential housemates was on her way to roller derby practice. I did not take the apartment but I did take a flyer. I tried out for the Boston Derby Dames in 2009 and it turns out roller derby was exactly as awesome as I thought it would be.

Do you have a derby nickname?

Mine is Lil’ Paine, a shout-out to the revolutionary writer Thomas Paine (in keeping with the Boston Massacre theme), and a play on the rap star Lil’ Wayne.

Is it really as rough as it looks in movies?

Roller derby is very rough-and-tumble but not as gritty as it has been portrayed in films like [Drew] Barrymore’s Whip It. Roller derby in Boston is played on a flat track which removes the danger of flipping over the railing. No punching or clotheslining is allowed. Hits in roller derby are like hockey checks, where girls use their whole bodies to toss opponents out of bounds.

Have you ever been injured playing?

I have been injured many times playing roller derby, but I have been lucky that nothing too serious has kept me on the sidelines for long. Recently I fell and broke a small bone in my wrist. A few seasons ago I had some trouble with my knees. A huge part of being healthy on the track is cross-training and nutrition. I work hard to make sure my diet is rich with grass-fed beef and rich leafy greens. I train three days a week, running in the parks with my dog or working out at CrossFit Boston. CrossFit Boston’s coaches have helped me develop my strength so I can compete with girls from around the world who are much bigger than my humble 5’2″.

To whom would you recommend roller derby?

I recommend roller derby to anyone who likes to play sports and who also likes fun. Boston Derby Dames has four teams that compete within the city, two teams that travel the country doing demonstration games, and we have a training and recreational team for athletes interested in learning the game but not competing in front of our large audiences. Give roller derby a try; it is an amazing workout and an incredible community of athletes to be part of.

Do your students know about your hobby? What do they think of it?

My students know about my hobby. They think roller derby is really cool. Some of my older students have been to see our games and they loved it. Our organization is really family-friendly and is committed to empowering women. The kids are excited to see their teacher participate and be happy about rocking out in roller derby. I think my participation in sport and my pursuit of fitness motivates my students to participate in sports at school and to be fit themselves.