Skater Profile: Luna Impact – A Life on Skates
by: Thomas GerbasiDecember 13, 2011
Luna, the Gridlock, and the All-Stars are enjoying the off-season and training the newest batch of Gotham Girls! Re-watch Luna's MVP performance in the GGRD 2010 Championship Bout, streaming on NYC Media's servers.
Luna Impact – A Life on Skates
by Thomas Gerbasi
Roller derby skaters don’t do it for the glory, and it’s certainly not for the money. But it is always nice to get a little recognition for your efforts, something the Gotham Girls Roller Derby All-Stars’ Suzy Hotrod is finding out after her recent appearance in ESPN The Magazine’s “The Body Issue.”
Yet before Suzy stepped into the spotlight, fellow All-Star Luna Impact got a similar dose of fame in her own right when she was prominently featured in a 2007 derby story in the New York Times. Less than a year later, the tale of the astronomer / skater went national when she was featured in Reader’s Digest.
“It was a really neat experience,” Luna recalls. “But then I started getting letters from prison, so that was a little different. (Laughs) Mild-mannered astronomer by day, that apparently really gets some people interested.”
If you’re talking about knockout blows, that was it right there, and it’s almost like Luna’s play on the track. She isn’t the flashiest skater out there, but by the end of her bouts with the Bronx Gridlock, the assistant captain of the perennial GGRD powerhouse will usually end up with a stack of points, a bunch of big hits, and a win, and in the case of the 2010 championship game, an MVP award.
Yet she’s not one to make a lot of noise.
Luna rocks the old-school hockey helmet before jamming during her rookie season (2007).
Photo: Chris Chin
“I can remember and count on one hand the number of times that I have ever yelled at a teammate or a ref out of anger on the track,” she said. “And really, it’s never happened in a game. It’s only been in practice, and on the Gridlock I’m a very even-keeled player, and I’m a very even-keeled captain. Off the track, maybe I’m a little more mouthy. (Laughs) But on the track, and I hope others see me this way, I’m respectful, I’m hard working, and I’m pretty damn quiet.”
And pretty damn good. A five year GGRD vet who just finished her second season as a member of the league's All-Star team that won the 2011 WFTDA Championship tourney last month, Luna is a core member of the Gridlock who seemingly gets better with each passing season. Then again, considering her background on four wheelers, her achieving anything but that excellence would be a disappointment.
“I’ve been roller skating my entire life,” she said, and she’s not exaggerating, as her father took her to lessons at her local rink ever since she was five years old. What followed were years of competitive figure skating (on roller skates, not on the ice), where she developed her craft in a precursor to derby.
“I skated singles for the longest time, that was my main event, and then I also skated free dance for two years closer to the end of my career,” she recalled. “The best I ever finished at the Nationals was getting the silver in free dance with my partner, who is now a physical therapist in Pennsylvania.”
Luna drives Brooklyn jammer Wild Cherri to the infield. Photo: Tom Igoe
Hitting the rink from eighth grade until graduate school, Luna might have continued to figure skate competitively if not for her coach leaving New York, subsequently closing down the club at her rink. Through a friend, she met Flying Squirrel, currently a member of the New York Shock Exchange and formerly a GGRD referee, and in 2006, Luna saw her first bout.
“I’ve never seen so many people so excited about watching roller skating,” she said of that night watching Brooklyn play her future team from the Bronx. “I’ve been competing since I was 12, and every competition I’ve ever been to, there’s always a sparse audience. People are cheering, but it’s your parents just to cheer for everything you do. (Laughs)”
Those parents and family members have continued to cheer, with “The Luna-tics” firmly cemented as a Bronx bout night fixture, complete with signs, face paint, and t-shirts celebrating number 29.5.
“They’ve always been amazing,” said Luna. “They like derby a lot more than figure skating.”
Surprisingly, Luna’s transition from figure skating to derby “wasn’t as crazy as you might think.”
“Going into it, I obviously knew that the object of the game was a little different than figure skating, but honestly, I fall a lot less than I did then,” she said. “We don’t wear any pads in figure skating, so every time you fall, you’re just falling out of the air and straight onto the floor.”
In fact, the only real adjustment was going from an individual to a team sport, a dynamic Luna enjoys.
“That was by far the biggest thing that I had to get used to,” she said. “It’s not just whether I’m having a good or bad day; it’s how the team is doing. And that’s one of my favorite things about derby. It’s no longer just about whether I’m looking good or bad today. I have all of these teammates who are gonna be around who I can help if I’m having a great day and they’re not having such an awesome game. Or, the other way around.”
Five years after her first bout, Luna isn’t slowing down. She’s on two league teams and a member of the coaching committee, and that’s in addition to her aforementioned day job as a radio astronomer, which isn’t exactly a job you hear about every day.
Luna jams for the Wall Street Traitors against Suburbia in 2009. Photo: Megan Moss Freeman
“I study galaxies in centimeter and millimeter wavelengths,” she explains. “I’m looking at neutral and molecular gas around galaxies, and I basically use that information to infer how they’re forming their stars, and we can use that to try to predict what’s happening in galaxies farther away.”
Uh, we may want to go back to derby right about now. So how about that coaching committee?
“I knew from early on that I wanted to be part of the coaching committee because I have a very different idea of how skating happens compared to a lot of people, just because I think I’m one of the only members of the league who was actually taught how to roller skate,” she said. “So I have a pretty good understanding of where your body belongs. And I have a different terminology compared to how a lot of the other girls learned to skate, which was in their backyard or on the streets. I can tell you about body line, I can tell you where your hips belong, and having taken and taught roller skating lessons since my dad took me when I was five years old, it’s just something that I’ve always done.”
Luna (green helmet) uses teammate Kandy Kakes to defend against the Bombshells in October's championship bout. Photo: Tom Igoe
You get the impression that it’s something Luna Impact will always do as well, because when it comes to skating, that’s a part of her life she’s not ready to give up yet.
“I was a figure skater from 1994 to when I joined (GGRD) in 2007, so I’m no stranger to long-term commitments when it comes to my sport,” she laughs. “So I guess I’m not surprised. I joined, I found something that I really liked, and it was pretty different from what I was doing before with the figure skating, and I really wanted to get good at it. I wasn’t ready to walk away from it until I felt like I had conquered it in my own way. And I feel like I’m not quite there yet. There are still things that I want to get better at, people I want to be faster than, and things that I can improve in my own game, and I’m certainly not ready to walk away from it until I’ve done those things.”
Luna (lower right) poses with fellow All-Stars and Bronx Gridlock skaters after winning The Hydra in Denver in November 2011. Photo: Tom Igoe