Hero Next Door: DO uses roller derby to spread anti-bullying message
An anti-bullying advocate and roller derby enthusiast, Ellen Lauer, DO, practices pediatrics in Bangor, Maine. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Lauer)
Ellen Lauer, DO, glides into the gymnasium on roller skates. She’s traded her white coat for a hot pink tank top, a fluorescent orange skirt, rainbow knee socks and a helmet peppered with colorful stickers. Today, she’s not flanked by nurses, but instead by fellow skaters decked out in roller derby glitz.
Dr. Lauer—or “Painbow Brite,” as her teammates call her—and her roller derby posse barnstorm central Maine with skates, funky clothes and a message: Skate Don’t Hate. Under this moniker, the group has visited schools, roller rinks, a summer camp and a university to speak with students about bullying—and to have fun.
“Skate Don’t Hate has two objectives,” Dr. Lauer says. “One is to introduce students to the sport of roller derby and the idea that girls can have fun too. The other is to really talk about how bullying is not acceptable and how, if someone is bullying you, you should find a way to get him or her to stop. And if you see someone else bullying someone, you should intervene and do what you can to help that person out.”
Skate Don’t Hate is just one way Dr. Lauer gives back to her community. She also volunteers at her YMCA and participates in its annual triathlon, which her husband, Adam P. Lauer, DO, established three years ago as a fundraiser for YMCA youth programs. Last year’s triathlon brought in $12,500. Child-focused causes are a natural fit for Dr. Lauer, a 30-year-old pediatrician in Bangor, Maine.
“The more energy and effort we put into making healthy, happy kids, the more likely they are to turn into healthy, happy adults,” she says. “That’s the mission of a pediatrician, and I can carry that mission on as a member of a community.”
Skates up, bullies down
Dr. Lauer’s derby league recently presented Skate Don’t Hate to groups of Girl Scouts at Bangor’s roller rink. Dr. Lauer, who is seven months pregnant and can’t skate at the moment, was the announcer. She introduced her teammates NBA-style over the loudspeaker.
Jen Eastman, the president of the Central Maine roller derby league, which organizes Skate Don’t Hate, says she loves having Dr. Lauer as an MC because her playful demeanor sets the right tone for the presentation.
“Ellen is just so relaxed and so outgoing that she immediately puts everyone at ease, both the skaters who are participating as well as the kids,” says Eastman.
The women skated around the rink, high-fiving the Girl Scouts. Then they talked about their aliases—some of Dr. Lauer’s teammates are called “Kitty Shreds” and “Pickle Bunny”—and explained the appeal of derby nicknames.
“When you have a roller derby name, you get to pick it and you can choose a name representing anything you want to be,” Dr. Lauer says. “Then you have an alter ego and get to be a super hero. It’s usually very well-received by the kids.”
After, the skaters mentioned their real-world careers so the students would know women from all walks of life can do roller derby. Then the fun began: They showed their audience how roller derby works.
As the skaters lined up, Dr. Lauer described the action.
“This is what a jam looks like,” she announced. Positioned at the back of the pack, the team’s jammers score points by skating ahead of the opposing team’s members, who slow them down by using their shoulders, hips and body positioning to block them.
Following the demonstration, the skaters took at seat at the end of the rink with the girls, and the mood turned serious as they shared their own personal stories about bullying from their youth. One of Dr. Lauer’s teammates described a childhood friend whose family heated their home with a wood stove. The smell of burning wood permeated the girl’s clothes, which the other kids at school noticed.
“She talked about how that girl was the kid who smelled weird,” Dr. Lauer says. “But she reached out to her and was friends with her, and that made a huge difference in that girl’s life.
“Another woman talked about how she had a bad body image when she was younger and people made fun of her. But now she’s doing roller derby wearing funny tights and short shorts and being proud of who she is.”
Next, the group asked for a couple volunteers and handed each a crisp $20 bill. They told the girls to crumple the bills up, step on them, punch them and yell at them. Then, they asked them to apologize to the bills, straighten them out and make them look new again. They couldn’t smooth out all the creases—and Dr. Lauer noted that while these bills have lines now, they are still worth $20.
“That’s what happens when you bully someone, you leave creases in them,” Dr. Lauer told the kids. “It doesn’t change their value, but it leaves a mark. Think about that when you are being mean to someone or you see someone who is getting bullied. Try to help them.”
The presentation ended with a ‘sock derby,’ during which volunteers from the audience and skaters perform a jam together without their shoes or skates. Afterward, each child left with a powder blue bracelet adorned with “Skate Don’t Hate.”
“The more energy and effort we put into making healthy, happy kids, the more likely they are to turn into healthy, happy adults.”
Dr. Lauer enjoys introducing the “girl power” aspect of roller derby to kids, she says.
“We are these professional women and moms, but we’re pretty tough because roller derby is a full contact sport,” she says. “It’s fun to show girls that you can do this, and that there’s a way to be athletic and be part of a team even when you’re all done with high school and college sports.”
Dr. Lauer is an asset for Skate Don’t Hate because she works with children and is very natural around them, Eastman says.
“Ellen is just so personable and she just has such a happy, easygoing manner,” she says. “She has a great way of making the kids feel very comfortable, but she never talks down to them. She speaks to them like they are small adults.”
Heather Van Dyne, Central Maine Derby’s marketing director, agrees.
“Ellen basically is a big kid herself,” says Van Dyne. “A lot of people don’t know how to interact with small kiddos, so it’s really cool to see her at these programs interacting one-on-one with them. Her personality lights people up. There aren’t a lot of people who are just generally happy and positive all the time, but she’s one of those people.”
Community service and medicine
When she’s at work as a pediatrician with Penobscot Community Health Center (PCHC) in Bangor, Dr. Lauer brings her Skate Don’t Hate experience with her. She says she’s now more likely to talk with her patients about bullying.
“It’s made me ask the question more,” she says. “I’m able to talk about bullying more openly, and then to say, ‘It’s not OK. And this is what you should do if it happens.’ It rolls off the tongue a little bit easier because I’m used to talking about bullying in other venues.”
Dr. Lauer also wears her powder blue Skate Don’t Hate bracelet to work every day. Sometimes patients recognize the bracelet or Dr. Lauer from the presentation, and a chat about the program ensues, she says.
Like Dr. Lauer’s roller derby teammates, Jill Perrone, PNP, who works at PCHC with Dr. Lauer, praises her colleague’s ability to connect with children, but notes that Dr. Lauer adept at working with parents too.
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“Parents seem to feel that she has a caring nature,” she says. “They want to talk to Dr. Lauer because they know she’ll understand. Sometimes when she’s not here, parents will say, ‘But she knows what’s going on, she needs to help us.’ They trust her and want her opinion, so they are sometimes willing to wait until she gets back because they value what she has to say.”
Dr. Lauer grew up in Latrobe, Pa., and was inspired to pursue medicine by her parents, who are both DOs and still practice family medicine today.
“My parents love being physicians, and they are great at it,” she says. “They really have a lot of passion in their careers, so they were awesome role models. Growing up, I always thought, ‘Why would I ever want to do anything else?’ ”
After attending the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine in Biddeford, Maine, and completing her pediatrics residency in Danville, Pa., Dr. Lauer moved back to Maine and began working at PCHC, where she had rotated as a medical student. Soon after settling in to her new home, she began volunteering.
“Community service has always been encouraged by my family and the people I have known in school,” she says. “Everyone should try to give back. The community has given me so much. It’s nice to try to return the favor.”
Dr. Lauer says she’d like to see other roller derby leagues adopt Skate Don’t Hate. Recently, a few members from a southern Maine league joined one of her group’s presentations because they are interested in developing a similar program. Dr. Lauer hopes they do.
“I’d like to spread the message and mission as far as it will go,” she says. “Bullying is an issue, for sure, and anything we can do to stop it is a step in the right direction.”