On the surface, roller derby appears to be a rough-and-tumble sport comprising women with intriguing names aggressively racing and blocking around a track.
But that's not what's at the heart of the sport. It's a strong sisterhood of women of all ages and backgrounds who support each other both on and off the track.
Aurora 88s roller derby skater Charity Hayes of Algonquin considers her teammates her best friends and mentors.
"I can always count on them to keep me going," Hayes said. "Not even just in derby, but in my other regular, working life and my other personal relationships. They're just constantly an encouragement to me."
Hayes has been a roller derby skater for five years, skating with the Aurora 88s for the past three. She's a highly skilled skater and a trainer for the flat track league's top team, Original Sinners. The league, which has been in existence for about four years, is based at the Aurora Skate Center.
With the Aurora 88s, Hayes plays many roles. During Saturday night bouts with opposing teams, her positions are as a blocker and a pivot.
"People say I'm a force to be reckoned with on the track. I think that my best ability is backward skating and really getting into agility and transitions," she said. Hayes also a member of the training committee, where she leads practices three to four times a month, works out training schedules and helps train prospects.
Before joining the 88s, Hayes skated on the Grand Raggidy Roller Derby league in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for two years. She discovered the league practicing at a local rink where her father skated for fun. She didn't know anything about derby or anyone who skated in a league. Heck, she hadn't even skated before.
"It was a really spontaneous decision," she says. "I started out so clumsy and they trained me to do everything. And it probably took 10 months before I was even ready to play in a bout."
When she moved to Algonquin, she searched for local derby leagues and found the Aurora 88s, an hour away. "I had to stay skating," she says. "I'm very passionate about roller derby. It's something I couldn't give up, even for a commute."
Hayes describes roller derby as a strategic, full-contact sport.
"It looks aggressive, but if you think about it with aggression, then it's harder to make yourself into a smart player. It's not just a matter of, 'I'm going to go out there and hit everybody as hard as I can.' It's about working together to get the objective of the most points."
Hayes addresses the common stereotypes of the sport.
"It looks really impressive and it looks really flashy. A lot of people have the idea that it's just shorts and fishnets and hard hits, but all the ladies that are skating have real lives and they all come from different paths. We're not just a group of girls that are just raunchy and hitting each other. It's more about your own personal strengths."
Hayes has several reasons for being so passionate about the sport.
"I feel like there's a lot of stress in life, and there's a lot of things that constantly weigh me down. But the minute I put on skates and the minute that I actually roll on to the floor, I feel so relieved," she said. "And I feel like this is where I should be.
"I'm around my best friends, and everybody else wants to be there, and everybody wants to make themselves better. Ultimately, it's therapeutic. And ultimately, it really makes me feel better about myself."
How long does she see herself skating?
"Oh, as long as I can. ... I would skate until my body would just not let me."