Wagner goes 'Knuckles': Roller derby changes the life of one local woman

Submitted photos Dana Wagner on the skating rink as 'Knuckles.'
Dana Wagner (right) serving as a Non-Skating Official at a roller derby bout.

“Derby doesn't leave you, it's an addiction,” said Dana Wagner, roller derby player.

That was the first thing that came to mind when Wagner was asked to share her thoughts on the increasingly popular sport of roller derby

“You're playing a sport as an adult. I'm 38 years old and it's a contact sport,” said Wagner, adding that it helps her to keep body weight down, and also promotes bonding and friendships among women.

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Wagner used to skate growing up at Ringing Rocks Roller Rink in Lower Pottsgrove Township and lost weight by doing it. She then decided it was time to start something new.

In April of 2012, on her birthday, Wagner tried out for the Pottstown Roller Derby Rockstars—a decision which has changed her life forever.

She says it took her about a month to get her footing.

“I encourage any woman to try and play,” said Wagner, mentioning that the sport would be particularly helpful for those lacking self-confidence and social anxiety issues. “Derby will bring things out in you that you didn't know you had.”

Wagner also says that the women—fellow players—get to know things about you that they probably wouldn't know under regular circumstances. Also, derby opens a window to meet people. According to Wagner, the faces are changing constantly.

While her experience in derby has mostly been on the upswing, she has experienced challenges such as a knee injury which prevented her from skating for several months. In regards to this, Wagner noted the importance of wearing protective gear at all times—even when skating recreationally—and if someone does get hurt, they need to get checked and take time off.

In regards to balancing work and play, Wagner says she doesn't even think about it. “It can be hard to balance for a lot of people, but if you want to do it—you'll find a way.” She mentioned that even when things came up in her personal life that prevented her from skating, she would serve as a Non-Skating Official. She has NSO-ed for Brandywine, Reading and Pottstown roller derby teams. Between injuries and personal affairs, Wagner says she has NSO-ed for a total of 9 months.

“There's a sisterhood between the teams; you help out where you can,” said Wagner.

When she's not wearing a helmet, Wagner is likely wearing one of her other hats. A resident of Gilbertsville, Wagner is mother of three Boyertown students and the store manager of Pet Valu in Gilbertsville.

However, no matter where she is or what she's doing, she'll likely be going by her derby name 'Knuckles,' a name which she chose in reference to the phrase 'knuckle sandwich.' She admits that most of her customers know her as 'Knuckles,' and they support her journey in weight loss through roller derby.

“It keeps you [physically] active and active in the community. Every bout works with a different [nonprofit] organization each time. That's one of the things I like about it,” said Wagner.

Her second season in roller derby ended this year and she plans to start up season three in January when the 'boot-camps' start. The bouts (games) will begin in March and Wagner will likely be there whether she's playing or supporting.

“You get a break for about a month and half; 70% of the girls still skate to practice,” said Wagner. “Even if you want the break, [most girls] still feel the need to skate.”

In terms of the fun to be had, Wagner says “You're able to hit women and still be friends with them. It's like you're a superhero when you're playing that sport. It's empowering to play.”

About the Author

Rebecca Blanchard

Rebecca won't hesitate to tell you that she has enjoyed writing throughout her entire life. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, she graduated from the professional writing program of Kutztown University in 2012. Rebecca joined Berks-Mont Newspapers in July of 2012 as editor of The Boyertown Area Times following her internship with the newspaper. In addition to writing, she enjoys traveling and cooking gluten-free foods. Reach the author at rblanchard@berksmontnews.com or follow Rebecca on Twitter: @boyertowntimes.