As far back as she can remember Lisa Bassett loved to roller skate. Her mother Linda Clark was always chauffeuring Lisa and her friends to the local rink. Never an invitation to join them, of course. It was just, “Drop us off and pick us up, Mom!”
Decades later, it was Lisa who coaxed her mother, now in her sixties, into letting her teach her how to skate — roller derby style! You see, Lisa grew up to be a roller derby jammer. From 2006 to 2010, she played in the Maine Roller Derby League. If you’re a fan, you’ll probably recognize her derby name — Olive Spankins.
Roller derby jammers skate and muscle their way through and out of the pack so they can score points. You have to be really nimble and really fast to be a jammer. Olive Spankins can sprint on skates, a skill she owes to a woman she merely caught a glimpse of when she and her husband Chris lived in Oklahoma in the 90s. “Our apartment was situated on a paved trail along the Arkansas River,” describes Lisa. “One day I saw this woman sprinting on skates — she was just hammering down the trail. I was out power walking and thought, ‘I want to do that.’ I started skating 10 miles every day as fast as I could. I never saw the woman again and I owe my whole derby career to her!”
Ten years passed and Lisa and Chris were back in Maine when she saw an ad for a Maine Roller Derby event. The league was only a few month’s old and needed skaters. She signed up. “It was so new they had open recruitment,” she says, “so anybody could join at any time. We all developed the skills together. Boston’s roller derby league Boston Derby Dames was a year ahead of us. They scrimmaged with us and helped develop our training system. It was really, really cool.”
Lisa was with the league for four years, retiring at 35 from what she says was an amazing and empowering adventure. “I had no idea if I was even going to like roller derby,” she says. “I’d never played a contact sport before. I didn’t know if I was aggressive. The first time we scrimmaged, I was like, ‘Who am I?’ I was very competitive and would rather die than have someone outskate me! Roller derby is aggressive and you have to be assertive, but it’s not violent. I think women a lot of times associate aggression and assertiveness with negative things. For us to be able to assert that side of ourselves in a positive and productive way is a huge part of the draw. We all have an assertive side and many women are surprised and really empowered by tapping into it.”
After four years of eating, sleeping and breathing roller derby, Lisa didn’t skate for a year and instead, got certified to teach Punk Rope, an exercise program that she introduced to Maine. Then she discovered Derby Lite, founded in 2007 by former Chicago roller derby player Barbara “Queen B” Dolan, who says Derby Lite provides “roller skating for fun and fitness.” All Lisa knew was that she loved to teach — she had been Maine Roller Derby’s head of training for three years — and she loved to skate. Bringing Derby Lite to Maine was an opportunity to do both and earn a living. “It’s the same passion,” she says, but I’m sharing it in a different way.”
Lisa has since taught Derby Lite skills to scores of women at Happy Wheels Skate Center in Portland (which, unfortunately, closed in 2019). They suit up in protective gear — knee and elbow pads, wrist guards, mouth guard, and helmet — strap on skates and depending on their skill level, either inch or glide their way on to the rink. Classes begin and end off skates with warm-up exercises and cool-down stretches and the rest of the 90-minutes is spent learning how to skate, fall, stop on a dime, spin around — derby style, but without the high impact and competition.
Linda a.k.a. Poke A. Dot is one of Lisa’s star pupils. “When she started, she couldn’t really skate,” she says. “I’m generally an unsympathetic person when someone falls, but with my mother, I held my breath! She got better and it transformed her. Everybody’s like, ‘what are you doing? You look so young and amazing!’ It’s like the fountain of youth. She loves it! Now I get to see her all the time and we even work together.”
What Lisa loves most about teaching Derby Lite is seeing how quickly women can be transformed. “They get this sparkle in their eyes,” she says, “and they even dress differently. Sometimes they come in their booty shorts and I’m like, ‘Whoa!’ I hear them say it’s life-changing over and over again. It’s not that they’re a new person, they just maybe haven’t been in touch with that side of themselves ever or in a really long time.”
It isn’t just the skating or the drills or the booty shorts that bring out those hidden sides — it’s Lisa “Olive Spankins” Bassett who provides the real motivation. I took her beginner class and I’ve watched her from the sidelines. She’s a great teacher who encourages each and every skater and without a shred of bullying pushes people, myself included, outside of their comfort zones — always with an abundance of joy and kindness. She also leads by example — only if you happen to be skating behind her, expect her to be way, way ahead of you!