Laura Claps and her partner Sara Montgomery have alter-egos.
By day, in normal times, Claps is a massage therapist and nursing student, and Montgomery is a graphic designer and photographer.
As members of the Old Capitol City Roller Derby team, they often suit up in knee pads, helmets and skates and take on their derby names: Claps is known as Bat R. Up and Montgomery is A Few Screws Lucy.
Now, with the coronavirus pandemic keeping their family and their neighbors home and their roller derby team off the court, the two have added a third set of personas to their lineup: those of a tyrannosaurus rex and a unicorn.
A roller skating T-Rex and unicorn, to be precise.
If you’re lucky and you’re walking around Iowa City on a sunny afternoon (on a properly socially distanced stroll, of course), you might spot them, gliding along in their inflatable costumes down neighborhood streets or on trails in the park.
“We are trying to create a little bit of happiness in our neighborhood. I have kids, and there are so many kids that are pent-up in the house and a lot of parents going crazy because of this,” Montgomery said. “We thought, wouldn’t it be fun if we put these costumes on and skated around and waved at all the kids inside their houses. Surprisingly, the adults like it just as much as the kids do.”
They may even do some trick skating, some spins or backward skates or jumps, though that’s not easy in the clunky costumes.
“There have been some unscheduled costume mishaps and other things that get in the way,” Claps said. “The costumes are not made to be roller skated in. Roller skating outside is pretty tough. In spring there’s still a lot of sand and rocks and stuff from winter, and we fall down a lot.”
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Montgomery emphasized they’re wearing pads and helmets, so they aren’t injuring themselves, but they are blowing out the knees of their costumes. They’ve done a lot of patching and makeshift maintenance to keep their suits in skating shape.
This isn’t the first time they’ve skated in costume — they previously had them for skating in parades. Other members of their derby team have joined them with their own costumes. They started a virtual sign up sheet to keep numbers to a safe level and make sure to leave distance between skaters when they go out.
“We’ve had a poop emoji, we’ve had a shark, a panda, an eagle, a cat sticking its face through bread,” Montgomery said.
They’ve also started getting requests to come skate certain streets and join things like birthday parades going past kids’ houses.
Montgomery said it gets hot sealed in the plastic suits, and the panel they see out of tends to fog up with condensation, so they never stay out too long.
But it is worth it, she said, when they see the reactions.
“It’s hard to stop because so many people are excited to see us. We’ll keep saying, ‘We can do one more block,’” she said.
Both women have been skating with roller derby for about a decade.
“I grew up skating, playing ice hockey and roller hockey. When I heard about a sport you could play as a grown adult on skates and be part of a community of really strong and amazing women and also be really aggressive and physically active, that appealed to me a lot,” Claps said.
Montgomery said it has been hard not having the normal team practices. Most of their season has been canceled.
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With so many people in similar socially isolated boats, they hope their T-Rex and unicorn antics bring a little bit of joy.
“It’s goofy, it’s funky, it’s silly, it’s weird,” Claps said. “We still want to have human connection, to have some joy, some laughter. We’re all in this together, and I hope we can all lift each other up and carry each other through.”
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