They arrive at a building in a Lombard office park with helmets hooked to rolling suitcases and begin their transformation from Megan or Amanda or Melissa or Trina into Sybil Disobedience, Punch It Margaret, Betty Boom or Malicious Z.
Knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards and quad speed skates come out of the suitcases. Striped or tye-dyed knee socks complete the outfits.
It becomes obvious these are derby girls getting in gear at the Lombard Roller Rink.
Or are they?
The 30 or so women gathering weekly at the rink are participants in Derby Lite, an Oak Park-based fitness class that is exactly what it says it is.
It's roller derby, turned down a notch.
The skating, drills and camaraderie of classic derby are all there -- minus the body-slamming contact and the competitions.
"It's a kinder, gentler class version," said Derby Lite co-owner Trina Bockus of River Forest.
Derby Lite's balance of skating, fitness and fun is attracting hundreds of participants, mainly women in their late 30s or 40s, to the classes held in Lombard, Chicago, Norridge and Oak Park.
So many women are flocking to the weekly skating sessions that organizers are adding a new location -- Orbit Skate Center in Palatine -- starting Sept. 25, and they're expanding the program to cities in California, Indiana, Maine, New York, Washington and Wisconsin. The classes are even finding a way to involve men, with monthly coed "Dudey Lite" sessions beginning in October.
"We serve a market that is highly underserved, which is women in their 40s who have jobs and families and partners and homes and want to exercise," Derby Lite founder Barbara Dolan of Oak Park said. "They've tried everything in their lives, generally, and they're bored with it. So they need a new way to exercise."
While many are just searching for a fun workout, others who sign up for Derby Lite are looking to gain experience before trying out for one of the area's four competitive women's derby leagues: the DuPage Derby Dames, the Aurora 88s, the Windy City Rollers and the Chicago Outfit.
The increasing popularity of these leagues is making more people aware of the sport, and Dolan said Derby Lite is "riding the wave of roller derby resurgence."
Warm-up exercises like squats, planks and push-ups; cardio -- in the form of skating laps practicing turns or crossovers -- and cool-down stretches all are part of the classes, which last an hour and a half for beginners and two hours for intermediate or advanced skaters.
At a recent session in Lombard, beginners learned to do 180-degree turns, while intermediate skaters practiced running on skates. In between, women nicknamed Sue Flay, LuLu Kaboom and Snoop Derby Dog chatted like old pals.
"Honestly, one of the biggest things they gain is a lot of new friends," said Bockus, 49.
The friendships formed can be as valuable as the calories burned.
"Because we're so time-crunched in everything we do, it's awesome that you can combine your exercise with a social component," said Dolan, 49. "(Participants) get a lot out of every practice, which makes it very attractive to the multi-tasking brain."
Participant Sharon Caruso, 49, of Palatine, said she enjoys the stress relief of the exercise Derby Lite provides, and she often sees derby friends at the rink practicing in their free time.
"I think anyone would like it," Caruso said, before specifying a bit: "anyone who sits at a desk all day long and is looking for a way to get some form of exercise and learn something new in the process."
Getting started in Derby Lite takes a sense of adventure, balance and some equipment, Bockus said. The organization holds "Get in Gear" days before each session begins to let potential skaters test-drive the quad speed skates and protective gear required to participate. Participants buy their own knee, elbow and wrist pads and can either rent skates for a session or buy them for $60 to $150.
Derby Lite instructor Amy Hanson of Elmwood Park said it requires a bit of an investment to begin in Derby Lite, but after buying gear, the costs to continue participating decrease. A 12-week beginner session in Lombard or Palatine costs $156.
"Derby Lite is the first exercise program that I have ever continued for more than six months," said the 37-year-old, who now skates with Windy City Rollers. "I love it. I always forget I'm exercising and I've met some of my best friends at Derby Lite."