LAKEWOOD RANCH — In six months, Nikole Stephens would become Hailey Explosive, but there in the stands, watching the roller derby players shoulder each other to the ground, she only wished she could skate.
“I thought, ‘I want to do this,’” said Stephens, who was watching the Bradentucky Bombers play roller derby in February at Astro Skate.
In six months, Stephens, a medical student who will one day treat pain, would administer it.
Stephens would learn how to skate, learn how to bully other women to the floor with her bottom and join the Bradentucky Bombers as the lead jammer in a bout.
Stephens, a second-year medical student at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine and a Lakewood Ranch resident, played in her first bout Aug. 17, at the Bradenton Area Convention Center, helping the Bombers to victory against the Miami Vice City Rollers.
The Bombers are an all-female roller derby team with women ages 18 to 40.
Its members include wives, mothers, students, mechanics, bartenders, web designers and artists, among others, who inherit alter egos such as Busty Bruiser, Mia Psycho, Snow Wipe U Out and, now, Hailey Explosive.
“It’s a hard-hitting, intense game,” said Stephens, wearing her clean white lab coat. “I love the aggressiveness of it. These are strong women.”
A three-sport athlete at Faith Christian Academy in Orlando, Stephens had been searching for a physical outlet to keep her sane through endless studies.
“I had to get out of the school, sleep, eat, school routine,” Stephens said.
In March, Stephens began the Bombers training program. Learning how to skate came first.
At home, she cleaned dishes wearing her skates.
When Stephens could stand without falling, she learned how to play roller derby.
Roller derby, played on roller skates, started in the 1920s as a respite for woman from the Depression.
It’s a contact sport played by two teams of five members rollerskating in the same direction around a track.
When the whistle blows, a “jammer” starts skating behind a pack of “blockers” and “pivots” who jockey for position, trying to clear space — using their bodies — for the jammer to pass through.
For the most part, Stephens is a blocker.
The teams try to assist their own jammer and prevent the opposing jammer from passing through at the same time, so they play offense and defense simultaneously.
A jammer scores points by lapping members of the opposing team.
She trained for eight weeks before she became eligible to compete. Now, she knows that she must skate low and cross her legs over on turns. She learned that blockers can’t hit opponents above the shoulders or below the mid-thigh. They can’t use their elbows and can’t hit people in the back.
“I faced my fears,” Stephens said. “My brain knows I’m going to get hit, but I can take it.”
She practices two hours, three days a week, usually at night.
The Bombers play home games every month.
They skate by the motto, “Strong women rolling for a strong community.”
Stephens likes to hit people, but she also likes to mend them.
She’s wanted to heal since her parents bought her science experiments every Christmas.
Right now, she wants to be a cardiologist.
She says her grades have improved since she began the sport.
“I definitely branched out from the other side of my apartment,” Stephens said. “I never knew what was out there.”