School’s Out, Skating’s in for Local Teacher

by Robin Miniter

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Alter Ego: Carmel teacher Nicki Stabell trades in her school gear for skates as a member of the Hudson Valley Horror roller derby team (picture courtesy of: http://www.horrorsrollerderby.com)

Knotted up in a pre-practice stretch on the polished wooden floor of Hyde Park’s Roller Magic, Nicki Stabell of Pleasant Valley is every ounce of fierce. Of course, as a member of the fledging Hudson Valley Horrors roller derby team, it comes with the territory: from the spunky hair-do to the scuffed quad skates, her short-sleeve shirt reveals colorfully inked biceps. No full sleeve tattoos allowed though, she laments – after all, she is a 7th grade teacher. “I always have to be professional and on my game when I’m at school,” she says.

A math teacher in Carmel and Marist College Greystone graduate student by day and derby dame be nightfall, Stabell, 24 – known as “Polly Gon Crazy” in the derby world – shares a similar story with the thousands of other women converging on the track for the full-throttle roller derby revival that’s sweeping the nation. To put it simply, Stabell, like many of her teammates, defies the concept of your average career woman.

“Being able to have a derby persona is probably one of the things that helps keep me sane, despite how crazy it is having a second personality,” says Stabell, “It’s fun getting to put my life on hold and go be Polly for a few hours each week.”

A 2006 SUNY New Paltz graduate, Stabell will be receiving her Masters in Education Psychology from Marist in the spring of 2010. For now, she juggles a healthy balance of work and play: tackling tests in the classroom and tackling opponents on the track.

“I find that derby actually gives me more patience with my students since I have another outlet,” she says, “and teaching really comes in handy at derby, especially since I’m so used to explaining things, it really comes naturally.”

She notes that while she doesn’t often bring derby up in the classroom, her students are aware that she partakes in, “some sort of sport on roller skates and that there is no ball.” Her colleagues on the other hand have a clearer grasp of the idea.

“When I was picking my name, I actually brought in a list of different names and had them vote on which one they liked the best. They all know that I’m a big nerd, so Polly Gon Crazy was the winner, hands down.”

Though her multiple passions are pulling from all different directions – mentally and physically – she is able to keep in check.

“It’s really difficult sometimes to balance everything, but I have to prioritize and I seem to be doing it pretty successfully. If I have to miss practice to finish a paper, or put off grading tests until Sunday to go to a game, I will.”

Stabell joined the team in July 2009 after seeing her friend’s band play at a derby half-time show in 2007. She was instantly hooked.

“I was completely intimidated…but it looked like so much fun to go out and kick ass!”

Five women compete from each side at during the bout – the three blockers and one pivot (the last line of defense try to defend their place in the pack while their one jammer tried to lap the their competition and rack up as many points as possible.

“Knowing that I can do it still amazes and excites me, I’m always stoked when I get to put my skates on!,” she beams, “Now I think to myself, ‘I can roller skate. What else is there I can’t do?'”

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