published Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

Nurse spends spare time on roller-derby team

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    Lara Harwood is a nurse, mother, and also a roller derby player. Her roller derby name is Shank Williams, Jr.
    Staff Photo by Allison Carter

Lara Harwood is a 40-year-old nurse, wife and mother of three.

She also plays roller derby.

Harwood, known to her teammates as Shank Williams Jr., joined the Chattanooga Roller Girls in April 2010. A Facebook invite to become a fan of the team led to her attending an orientation ("fresh meat") meeting.

"It had been about 20 years since I'd skated," said Harwood, who lives in Cleveland, Tenn. "It was a junior-high thing in the '80s, I guess."

The first time out, she said, the white skates with purple wheels she'd found at a resale shop fell apart. But with some better equipment and a lot of hard work — the Roller Girls practice twice a week — Harwood has improved on the flat track and has developed a love for a sport she calls simply "for me."

Q: What's the difference between what you could do on skates nine months ago and what you can do now?

A: I wasn't scared of falling when I first started, and I'm still not scared. I think I'm steadier on my feet than at the beginning. But anybody who would want to do this, they could come in and get the instruction and training they need to go about it. If you love the game and you want to be a part of it, [the girls are] more than welcoming. I can skate a little faster; my goal is to be a little bit faster. I'm not that great at stopping, but I'm getting better.

Q: What's the spirit of roller derby?

A: The spirit of it is the love of the game, being with a vastly different group of women — everybody comes from different backgrounds, different jobs, different families. ... It's just something that's for me. That's what it is: It's for me. It's a great stress reliever. I've never had anything to completely take my mind off (home life). Some people will run and exercise. There's no words to describe how it feels.

Q: How do you relate being a roller-derby girl to your daughters?

A: For me, being a woman and being able to do this, it is empowering that I can go out and be part of a team. Our goal as a team is to be an athletic group of women. My daughters want to do roller derby. My older daughter played on the Powder Puff football team at Walker Valley. If they wanted to do it, I would support them, and their dad would, too. We tell them they can do whatever they want if they put their minds to it.

Q: You're a caretaker in your day life — a nurse and mother. Does that translate to derby? Do you find yourself looking out for the younger girls?

A: I'm the oldest, I believe. We're all different, and that's all great. I've always been, not bossy, but just having to get the kids everywhere, making sure everyone's schedules are organized, that sort of thing. So when I come into derby, I've been able to come in and be more of a team player. It's good not to have the stress of directing. We have so many strong girls. They can all take care of themselves.

Q: What's a typical day for you?

A: I get up about 4:45 (a.m.), I get into work at 5:20 (a.m.) I'm a cardiac rehab nurse at SkyRidge [Medical Center]. I leave work about (1 p.m.). All the kids are in school at that time and my husband works the night shift, so he's resting. All the kids have some sort of practice every day, so I try to figure out the best way to get them where they need to go. Tonight my [younger] daughter has play practice and basketball practice, my son has a basketball game, my older daughter has bowling, my husband works, and I have practice. I got my son a ride from a friend. This will be one of the few games I miss. I'll go home from Chattanooga, then drive back to Chattanooga tonight, then I'll pick up my son from his friend's house. Meanwhile my husband picks up my younger daughter and leaves her with my older daughter at home, then he goes to work. By the time I get home, it's about 9:30 or 10 (p.m.), then I do it all again the next day.

Q: How much time do you and your husband get together?

A: We got to see each other this morning for about 30 minutes. He's a nurse, and he works nights. He's the leader of the Tea Party of Bradley County. So he has his thing, and I have mine. I'm very supportive of him, and he is so supportive of me. We just kind of work out.

I have such an awesome husband. He's just a really awesome guy. I fell in love with him [at work] and chased him down. He's a really good nurse; he's a really professional person. Everyone likes him. He's very supportive, and he's a good dad.

Q: Did you ever think that at 40, you'd be raising kids, being a nurse, nurturing a marriage and being a roller-derby girl?

A: I can't even believe it. If someone had told me "You're going to be doing roller derby," I'd be like "no way. There's no way I have time to do that." But oh my gosh, I love to be on skates. I don't know if there's something youthful about it, if it brings me back to being young. Maybe that's it. It's like being a young girl again. And being able to do something all by myself is not like me.

Q: How did you pick your derby name?

A: I wanted to be Mallory Knocks (Knox), from "Natural Born Killers," but that name was already taken. So my husband and I ... came up with a couple different things, like Paula Slamley, like Paul Stanley from Kiss, because we love Kiss and Korn. I like Hank Williams Jr. So my husband said, "Shank. Shank Williams Jr."



ABOUT HER

* Family: Husband, Donny Harwood; children, Hannah, Austin and Lauren.

* School: Cleveland High School, class of '89.

* Favorite quote: "A woman is like a tea bag. You never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water." — Eleanor Roosevelt.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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