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Lesbian grandmother leads roller-derby team
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2013-02-27

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Lori Danko during competition. Photo by Heyman Neisschott


Lori Danko was a skateboarder growing up, claims to secretly be an artist, and someday wants to give stand-up comedy a shot. She is a roller derby standout, the captain for the Double Crossers of Windy City Rollers fame under the moniker Busty BraBender, plus, she's the mother of two daughters and grandmother of one.

"I feel young, healthy and strong, but have come accustomed to living with Icy Hot and ice packs as a daily norm," Danko said, laughing.

After all, she's 41 now and only started in roller derby three years ago.

"I had not been on roller skates for at least 20 years when I decided I was going to try out," for the Windy City Rollers, she said. "I had a few friends who were playing and they convinced me to try. There was a person who also said, 'It is hard, and not for everyone; you could be a volunteer.' I was furious [with the comment]; I was determined [to make it].

"Frankly, that woman was right in some ways. I have watched more women come and go, but I have also watched women dig in and push themselves harder than they ever knew they could. If you had told me [years ago that], when I turned 38, I would try-out for a sport where I got knocked down hundreds of times, [then just] get up and keep going, and love it, I would have laughed in your face. Now, 3 1/2 years later, I am still playing with all my heart and soul.

"I have been injured, succeeded, lost, cried, laughed and, at the end of the day, I have learned so much about myself. Roller derby presented an opportunity to play a competitive sport as an adult. It helped me learn how strong I am, and how much stronger I can be. I learned that roller derby is a big family, and whatever city you visit, the roller derby team there becomes your family, too."

Danko moved from Grand Rapids, Mich., to Chicago in August 2011. She now lives in Wicker Park and is a nurse at Illinois Masonic Hospital.

"I love working [at Illinois Masonic]; they have embraced me and that I play roller derby with open arms," Danko said. "The diversity of the staff [at Illinois Masonic] is valued and welcoming, and you can truly see that when you walk in the door."

Danko is in a relationship with Sindy Ning, who she tagged as, "the most amazing and supportive person on earth, and with a great sense of humor." Danko added, "I am openly gay, but don't really love 'terms' placed on people. We are all human and, at the end of the day, that is how I treat everyone. If we could all open our hearts and minds to the love all around us, this world would be such an amazing place."

Danko, who graduated from the University of Detroit-Mercy, is the much-tattooed leader of her derby team. Her skin art include a black cat and cheetah print on her left upper arm in honor of her cat that died in a house fire in 2005. She also, on her left inner upper arm, has the quote 'the rule I play by' with the numbers 2.2.2 tattooed. "This is a rule for roller derby, meaning, 'the team with the most points win.'"

In high school, Danko played soccer, swam competitively and also ran cross country.

So why roller derby?

"It's a complicated answer," she began. "I discovered at [age] 38 that I was an athlete, that I was capable of anything—like the runner who starts jogging, then runs a 5K [race] and ultimately becomes a marathon runner. That runner discovered something about themselves, something inside themselves."

Danko did, too.

"Playing for Windy City Rollers is tough," she said. "Most people don't know that we don't get paid. Instead, we go out every month and promote our own events. Most of us have full-time jobs, and a large number of the skaters have children. The training to play this competitively also requires lots of training. Windy City Rollers offers opportunities to train seven days a week. My typical schedule is skate three or four days a weeks, daily workouts [in a gym], and Crossfit. I train like every other athlete, including [focusing on a healthy] diet."

Danko said the highlights of her Windy City Rollers career jumping the apex during a game last season and landing it, plus winning against Hells Belles in the charity bout.

"I have played all positions [in derby], but prefer to be a blocker. I love to hit hard, and love when other skaters hit you and it doesn't move you at all," she said.

So what's with the derby name, Busty BraBender?

"I had a hard time finding a name as [the first name], no one [understood] and another [potential name] was already taken by another skater," she said. "A teammate made comments [that] when I hit them in the chest, it bent their bra, or broke their bra, so BraBender was born."


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