The Biology of Roller Derby

Video posted April 27, 2017 in Sports by Anna Pitingolo


STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- There was nothing special about Dr. Nanette J. Tomicek's path to her doctorate; it was very much the same as anyone who takes the steps to earn a Ph.D. She grew up outside of Pittsburgh and attended Westminster College for her undergraduate degree in biology. Then when it came time to find a university where she could pursue her Ph.D. in physiology, she chose to stay close to home and ended up in Happy Valley.

"There was a lot of life choices that I had to make at that point. I applied to several schools in several different locations across the United States and it just came down to fit. The program really pursued me a good bit and I found someone that I felt I could work well with here."

Working towards a Ph.D. requires a lot of hours studying and working, so when she was done with the program in 2012 and accepted a job offer as an instructor in Penn State's biology department, she suddenly had a lot of extra time on her hands. Enter a group of women that Tomicek ran into on a night out and got to talking to. 

The women, members of the State College Area Roller Derby league, were celebrating a win that evening, and they invited Tomicek to their recruitment event coming up. 

"I've always been interested in doing sports and things that are physical, maybe slightly dangerous, a little bit more adventurous," Tomicek said. "So I thought this is perfect, I just finished my graduate degree and I'm now transitioning into a regular job, I have a lot more free time on my hands. So it was just perfect timing as far as needing something and finding something."

The SCAR Derby League comprises of four teams, the Happy Valley Dolls, Plan B, Mount Nittany Mayhem and Pennsyltucky Punishers. Tomicek plays for the Happy Valley Dolls, which is the league's A-team and travels up to four hours away to compete sometimes. Of about 300 teams that are internationally ranked, the Dolls come in at No. 177 on the list.

Now in her fifth year with the team, Tomicek has found her family amongst her teammates and coaches at Penn Skates, the roller rink in State College.

“I love the athleticism but probably overall is the sense of community and having a group of people to belong to,” Tomicek said. “State College is a very transient town and most people are here for their four or five years, get their degree and move on. But with Roller Derby, even though people are leaving as well, there’s always more coming in and it’s the easiest way to get 50 new best friends.”