Etta Maims: A Boston Derby Dame Can Hurt So Good

Thursday, Jun 14, 2012 1:45 pm

Boston Derby Dames’ Etta Maims (aka Lauren Jeffery) shows no mercy

Our intrepid reporter takes a close look at the rollicking wreckage of a Boston Derby Dame and finds busted knees, a crushing handshake–and, um, a master’s degree in intercultural relations?*

By Jeannie Greeley

My first intimidating run-in with one Miss Etta Maims came via the Internet, where my soon-to-be subject issued this fateful warning in her bio: “Despises: Reporters who get it all wrong.” My trepidation grew as I watched a YouTube video of her devouring a bowl of green beans in a competitive eating challenge. Then there’s the name — a threatening morph of a badass jazz legend and crippling brutality.

So you can imagine my nerves as I sit in the booth of a Papa Gino’s in front of Roller World in Saugus, awaiting her arrival.

I hear my name. I look up. Something isn’t right. Approaching me is this smiling, bright-faced woman with blue eyes the size of cue balls who looks like she could be your second grade teacher, complete with cardigan and hair bun.

Then she shakes my hand. I stifle a pained squeal. And I fast realize that this is the Etta Maims, veteran of the roller derby world, proud wearer of the number B52 for the Boston Massacre, renowned wrecking ball.

I’m happy to learn, however, that it’s not just wimpy li’l me who harbored these fears of the formidable Etta Maims. Her reputation as a force to be reckoned with is known throughout the Boston Derby Dames — the league founded in 2005 that now comprises the Cosmonaughties, Nutcrackers, Wicked Pissahs, and the Boston Massacre travel team.

“All I heard from the beginning was that she could knock your socks off and that she was a super heavy hard hitter,” remembers Amy Chilton, 32, AKA Bad Person, a co-captain of Boston’s Wicked Pissahs. “So I was pretty afraid of her.”

If you’re a roller derby neophyte like me, here’s your derby 101: Derby bouts are played between two teams of five skaters — a pivot, 3 blockers, and one point-scoring player known as a jammer. Jammers are sprint skaters who score points each time they pass an opponent. The formidable folks who get their jammers through, or work to shut down the other team’s jammer, are the blockers.

As both a league vet and the bench coach to the Wicked Pissahs, “Maimsy” has become a strong presence, both physically and emotionally, to the Boston Derby Dames establishment. It is an absence that will certainly be felt when she hangs up her skates after this season — her final hurrah after sitting out last season with a grueling knee injury that tops a long list of roller ruin.

Double duty
“Etta Maims” is actually Lauren Jeffery, but in a true testament to the sport’s spillover effect, you never quite know if you should be referring to her as Lauren, Etta, Maims or Maimsy.

She’s a 29-year-old Framingham State graduate who will earn her Masters in intercultural relations from Lesley College this May. (Oh, and that reporter who got it wrong did so by referring to Jeffery as a Wesleyan grad — a mistake that actually helped set her up with her current boyfriend, a Wesleyan alum.) So, yes, she has a boyfriend. And, in a weird but intimate admission, she reveals that she doesn’t have a sense of smell, a deficit that comes in handy in the locker room.

“Then everyone’s like, ‘Can you taste?’” says Jeffery. “And I’m like, ‘Have you seen my ass? Of course I can taste!’” (Her sense of humor is apparently still intact.)

As something of a roller derby virgin, I imagine Etta to be the anomaly, a finely coiffed character among the motley masses of over-inked women who eat beer cans for breakfast and brush their teeth with motor oil. My stereotypical assumptions prove shortsighted.

“When I think of Maims, she’s one of the derby players who just seems pretty classy. I think the general opinion about roller derby girls is that we’re a bunch of tattooed drunks with blue hair,” says Bad Person, a nurse at Spaulding Rehab by trade. “In Boston, at least, that’s so not true. They’re actually very professional. We have a lot of really awesome women who are really intelligent, really well put together and really business-minded, and Boston totally celebrates that.”

Jeffery found roller derby in 2006 as a post-college graduate who had recently lost her job and was experiencing some pretty intense ennui.

“I was feeling really frustrated that I didn’t have something else,” she remembers. “I think that’s difficult for a lot of people who go to college who may have been involved in different types of sports that are hard to do as a grownup.”

It is a typical pattern of longing that leads many women to the derby, claims Jeffery, noting that many find the sport during a divorce, after a break-up, or in other trying times. It fast becomes both their social network and an unpaid hobby with the demands of a second job.

“I say I go from one job to another, but I don’t get paid for this,” says Pamela Decker, 30, AKA Anita Bangher of the Wicked Pissahs. “I just do it ‘cause I love it.”

The Boston Massacre suited up and ready to roll. (Photo by David Lombino)

And while some of derby’s women come to the sport with no athletic background, Jeffery had something of a fierce history to bring to the rink. As a former track and fielder and rugby player, she initially laughed off the burdensome protective gear of roller derby.

“I felt so silly in my first practice wearing pads and a helmet and a mouth guard. I’m like, ‘Really?’” she laughs. “For rugby I just had a mouth guard, and people were stepping on me and kicking me in the stomach.”

However, over the course of the next several years, Etta Maims would discover just how rough the sport can be through a series of painful injuries that culminated with her sitting out last season. Listen to Jeffery rattle off her list of injuries and it sounds like the alphabet of pain: sprained LCL, partially torn MCL, ripped ACL — all ligaments of the knee.

“So how torn was it?” she remembers asking the doctor, in regard to her ACL. “You just didn’t have one,” came the doc’s grim response.

There is never good timing for this prognosis. But for Jeffery, the circumstances made it even more bruising. The Boston Massacre had just bucked a longstanding tradition, finally qualifying for the national tournament.

“It was the most exciting thing because that season I felt like the team had a lot of unity,” she says. “And the week after was when I busted up my knee. Oh, and also it was my birthday on the day I found out. That sucked.”

Undeterred, Jeffery immediately got fitted for a brace and skated in the national tournament in November, helping the Massacre advance one round before their eventual defeat. That Thanksgiving, Jeffery unlaced her skates and sutured up her knee after undergoing surgery to replace her ACL. She would spend the next six months itching to get back on skates.

“For a while I had considered just leaving derby altogether,” says Jeffery. “But I was really afraid that without a reason to get better I wouldn’t push myself to be as aggressive as possible to heal my knee and get back in condition.”

To explain the passion for this sport as an addiction is not hyperbole. Women – many in their late 20s and 30s — talk of their teammates as family. They practice multiple times a week, devote Saturdays to games, travel for regional matches and tournaments, and form the backbone of this LLC business, acting as everything from PR reps to coaches to executive board members. And they do it all for free.

“I mean we pay to do this,” laughs Jeffery, who served on the Boston Derby Dames executive board for several years.

The occasional fear of being debilitated by the sport seems to pale compared to the larger fear of not having it as a staple in their destructive diets.

“Something hurts every day,” admits Bad Person, or Beeps, as she’s affectionately known. “When people are limping around or holding their backs … I’ll think ‘I don’t know if they should keep playing this sport.’ But we can’t seem to stop ourselves. None of us.”

Bring the pain

“Ohhhhhhh!” the crowd screams, as one of Philadelphia’s Liberty Belles becomes the first victim in Etta Maims’ carnage during a sold-out April match at the Shriner’s Auditorium in Wilmington, Mass. It’s only one minute into the showdown against this undefeated opponent, and the Boston Massacre bruiser is already in the penalty box.

I am perched behind a padded cement beam on the side of the rink, like some urban Jane Goodall stealing a glimpse of these creatures in their natural habitat. But as soon as the bodies start flying, I ditch the journalists’ zone for the safer pastures of the bleachers.

It is one thing to hear of Maimsy’s wrecking ball status; it is another thing entirely to witness it with your own eyes and ears. Watching her whiz by in her black shiny tights (the fashion design undergrad recently ditched ruffles and tassels for the practicality of athletic gear), it’s impossible to imagine her in her day job at UMass Lowell, helping to recruit international students. It’s also impossible to find a glimmer of that beaming smile, as her game face turns to one of stony determination. But as soon as she’s outside of the rink’s pink-taped borders, she becomes that bubbly cheerleader that so many of her teammates rely on. Etta Maims is perhaps the perfect dichotomy of darling and destruction.

Etta Maims brings on the pain. (Photo by David Lombino)

“I remember watching her knock people down, and not just knock them down but knock them down in a way that was a pivotal move for the game,” says Anita Bangher, a co-captain of the Wicked Pissahs and player for Boston Massacre. “She was doing her job and wasn’t just a bully on the track, and then she’s super sweet too. She definitely is the spirit of the team.”

But back at the Shriner’s Auditorium, the spirit of the team is again in the penalty box, with the opponents quickly surging ahead.

“Fantastic muscle there by Etta Maims!” the announcer yells, giving a rare shout-out to this back-of-the-pack star. Rare because there are obvious unsung heroes in the world of roller derby, where all eyes seem stuck on the jammers. But when I fix my gaze on Etta, the strategy of the pack reveals itself as far more sophisticated than this mass of bodies might appear to the neophyte viewer.

Maims herself has become a more agile skater over the years, according to her sister, who was inspired by her younger sibling to start the Green Mountain Derby Dames in Burlington, Vermont. But in terms of the legacy Maimsy will leave for the Boston Derby Dames, it’s likely to be more grit than grace.

“I think people will remember her for ‘Ohhhh, that looked like it hurt!’” says 32-year-old Michelle Jeffery, AKA Susan Slamberg, “because Maims just hit you, on the outside, on a corner, and you went flying into the audience.”

And for the third and final time, Maims is again back in the penalty box, as the Liberty Belles take an insurmountable lead and finish off the Massacre with a score of 59-163. First in line smiling and ready to shake hands with the opponent? You guessed it.

“I’m usually not that penalty prone,” admits a sweat-soaked Maims after the match. “The scoreboard says we got romped, but I don’t feel like we got romped,” she adds, optimistically naming this match as one of the highlights of her derby career.

“Scooz me,” a little girl interrupts. “Can I take a picture with you?”

“Suuuure!” Maims beams, dropping to one knee for a photo op, before vanishing to change into jeans and a t-shirt to coach the Wicked Pissahs in this double-header match.

This is where Maims becomes more brains than brawn — though she did one time smash her fiberglass clipboard into a million pieces. (For the record, it was during a burst of excitement, allegedly.) She makes order of the chaos, changing lineups, assigning jammers, negotiating with refs.

“She is always so calm,” says Beeps. “And when there’s down time and everything is running smoothly, she’s doing high kicks and getting all the Pissahs to raise their hands so she can run and give everybody a high five in a row.”

Maims matches the sentiment, noting, “My heart just swells for those Wicked Pissahs. They really welcomed me into their team and their lives last year and I can’t thank them enough. When you’re a Pissah, you’re a Pissah fo’ life, which I suppose is why I have a tattoo on my foot of a seagull with a banner that says ‘Wicked Pissahs’.”

Right now, however, is not the time for kudos or celebration. Maims is back down on one knee, this time out of respect for a member of the Cosmonaughties who is being taken out of the rink on a stretcher. With 20 seconds left in the bout and the Pissahs leading by 39 points, it makes for an anticlimactic victory when the refs call the match. And you have to imagine it’s a sobering moment for the rest of the players to contemplate their own fragility.
As for Maims, she passes up the traditional after-party to prepare for a much-needed family vacation in Florida. For a few days, she’ll be free of derby’s demanding schedule and its bruising battles. But given that she’ll be hanging with a similarly addicted sister and parents who wear shirts emblazoned with “Mama & Papa Maims,” it’s likely that her goal to end the season with a Boston Massacre championship won’t be far from mind.

“I feel like after putting in all I have this season, I’ll be ready to hang up my skates,” she says. “I worry that I have no idea how much I will miss it. Playing roller derby feels like nothing else.”

I’ll just take her word on that.

Jeannie Greeley is a Boston-based freelance writer and producer. If you want to read about her pain, you can check out her relationship and humor column in Stuff Boston magazine at She can be reached at

*Editors note: This peice first ran in August of 2011. Although Etta Maims has retired from action, the Boston Derby Dames slug on. Boston Derby Dames presents bout number four of the 2012 season with yet another exciting doubleheader on Saturday June 16, 2012! For our ongoing home team rivalry, we have the Nutcrackers vs. Cosmonaughties at 5p.m. Then the Boston Massacre take on Maine’s Port Authorities at 7p.m. Bouts held at the Shriners Auditorium in Wilmington. Tickets available online at or at the door. For more information visit


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3 Responses to “Etta Maims: A Boston Derby Dame Can Hurt So Good”

By facebookpoker:

Friday, Sep 16, 2011 8:33 pm

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By leslie:

Sunday, Sep 18, 2011 9:19 pm

One other reader had an issue when using Firefox. See if it works better in IExplorer. We’re trying to track down the glitch

By Giovanna:

Friday, Mar 16, 2012 11:39 pm

These are great pictures! All of the Dixie Derby Girls will want to have their pthoos taken by you! Hmm, maybe you can take some shots that can be like baseball cards, and the Dixe Derby Girls’ fans can collect them. That would be a neat fan promotion, and you could get more business advertising. At the very least, though, if would be fun to see all of the Dixie Derby Girls in their cool outfits! (Danielle, I *love* your Bookin DanKno moniker!)

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