Preschool director by day ... rollergirl by night

Posted: Tuesday, September 21, 2010

FAIRBANKS - Tattoos. Tank tops. Mouth guards. Sweat. Sounds like the attributes of a hockey or football practice.

Sam Harrel /  Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
Sam Harrel / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

No, these are the hallmarks of the Fairbanks Rollergirls in training. Iris Boehm, 32, is one of them. She's what's known as "fresh meat," which means she is honing her skills to join one of the league's two roller derby teams, the Gold Diggers or the Raven Rebels.

Boehm is a preschool director by day. By night, she goes by the moniker Violent Iris.

"It's perfect," she said, "because I'm not violent at all. I was looking for a name that was the opposite of the real me."

A co-worker initially encouraged Boehm to join the roller derby league but she demurred.

"I'm not athletic and I really didn't know what roller derby was," she said. Later, Boehm attended an open house at the Carlson Center hosted by the Fairbanks Rollergirls.

Roller derby matches are called bouts. To play the game, four skaters help a lead skater, known as a jammer, score points by passing members of the other team. Blockers use their hips and shoulders to hold back the opposition. Pop music is played loudly during each period, and players wear old-school quad skates.

"It looked like fun, so I joined up," Boehm said.

That was about 18 months, a broken tail bone and a sprained ankle ago. Now Boehm is one of the league's trainers and she is helping to establish a junior roller derby league for girls ages 10 to 17. Fourteen girls have signed up. The first practice is Thursday.

Boehm came to Alaska at age 5.

"My parents were hippies and they thought it would be groovy is what I tell most people," she said.

The family lived in North Pole. When her parents divorced, Boehm helped raise her younger sister while her mother earned a living.

"I skated when I was younger," Boehm said. "That was so long ago. That was when they had the Polar Roller Skating Rink."

The North Pole High School graduate is soon-to-be-divorced, and she is one class away from a bachelor's degree in early childhood development at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Boehm said before roller derby, she liked to stay at home, watch movies, read books and do arts and crafts.

"This is so out of character for her to do this roller derby," said retired bartender Rosellen Boehm, Iris' mother. "She's just been such a mild- mannered person. It's fun to watch her just explore this whole other side of her that I've never seen. It's boosted her confidence. I think she just shines as a person."

Jess Hampey, a 33-year-old nurse and fellow Rollergirl, said she is impressed by Boehm's perseverance. Other Rollergirls have quickly graduated from fresh meat to boutable. Boehm is still perfecting the skills of jumping in skates and skating on one foot.

"She's one of my favorite people," Hampey said. "She just works so hard. She doesn't let anything hold her back."

It was at her second day of rollergirl practice when Boehm broke her tailbone. The skaters were skating in a long line, holding each other by the waist and making a giant figure eight when Boehm saw a skater headed straight in her direction.

"I scared myself and fell on my butt," she said.

She had to sit on a pillow shaped like a donut for six weeks.

She was playing basketball on skates when she sprained her ankle during another practice.

"You don't have to be tough," Boehm said. "But you have to have good insurance."

Boehm said the league boasts women from all walks of life; teachers, nurses, hair dressers, a yoga instructor.

"Being around so many strong and empowering women is an amazing thing," she said. "And the next thing you know, you are one of those strong and empowering women."

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