Bespectacled with a short red bob, Dr. Kat Zechar looks every inch the medical professional.
The internist at Memorial Medical University acts as a liaison between patients and their specialty doctors, logging long hours on the hospital floor.
But at the end of her shift, the glasses come off and ripped tights go on as she transforms into her roller derby alter ego, Trauma Protocol. Almost unrecognizable, she dashes out the double doors for practice at the Garden City Gym.
"I call it pulling a 'Clark Kent,'" grins the good doctor, still in professional mode for this interview, but she surreptitiously opens her white coat to reveal the signature red tank top sporting the sassy horned logo of the Savannah Derby Devils.
Back when she was a resident, Zechar/Trauma Protocol signed up for SDD's week-long Boot Camp, figuring she'd get a little exercise and meet some new friends. She soon found herself hooked, proudly nursing bruises and practicing skating drills on the smooth floors of the hospital basement. Now she spends at least three nights a week on wheels and made her bout debut at the end of last season with the Devils' "junior varsity" B team, the Hostess City Hellions.
Dr. Zechar finished her residency around the same time she joined the team, and her commitment and determination have earned her the respect of SDD founder, Fear Abby. Longtime derby queen Abby admits that she initially disapproved of the newbie's penchant for wearing pearls to practice and warned her that they'd break and scatter. They inevitably did. Zechar showed up at the next practice wearing a new string of pearls, the magnetic kind that can withstand a wicked hip check.
"Trauma clearly enjoys derby as a balance to the rest of her life," concedes Fear Abby. "She likes to be the yin to everyone's yang."
Punishing body blocks and potential injuries may seem like a curious choice for someone who spends her days treating other people's accidents and illnesses, but Zechar says the aggressive nature of the sport helps her blow off steam. She lends her medical expertise to the team when necessary, but mostly she leaves the dressings to team medic Jeff Cosby (aka Bone Collector) so she can concentrate on strategy and endurance.
"There's no other sport where you play offense and defense at the same time while challenging your core and balance," says Zechar, adding that she feels a calling to roller derby similar to the one that brought her to medicine.
Dr. Zechar/Trauma Protocol and the rest of her badass cohorts start the new season on April 20 at the Civic Center.
Last season's winning record (7-2) has earned the Derby Devils an apprentice position in the international organization that governs roller derby, the Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), meaning there's a whole new caliber of competition this year. The All-Stars face Birmingham, AL's formidable Tragic City Rollers at the season opener, while the Hellions confront the Soul City Sirens from Augusta, GA. On August 18, the Devils will tangle with Austin-based WFTDA-ranked Texas Rollergirls' Hustlers.
While roller derby has a reputation for snarling and aggression, these women of the wheel also have a softer side: Proceeds from the merchandising sold at each bout benefit a local charity. Funds raised at the season opener will go to Liam's Land, a charity established to support research for lymphatic malformation after a Savannah child was born with the rare condition.
Derby Devil bouts have always been family-friendly affairs, with bounce houses and halftime games, partly because many skaters are moms who understand the importance of a good time for the kids. The other reason may be that they're grooming the next generation of dervishes: The Hellions now boasts its very own mother/daughter duo (Demented Mistress and RamsHer, respectively), and June 15 marks the bout debut of SDD's baby league, the Savannah Jr. DerbyTaunts, comprised of young women ages 10-17.
Though derby women are tough, they'd never put one of their own out to pasture. Also new this year is the Derby Devil wRECk League, a low(er)-key outfit where a skater emirita can keep a toe on the track. Organized by Fear Abby, the wRECk League is a no-try out, casual environment for retired Devils as well as beginners looking to prepare for Boot Camp and tryouts.
"One thing we've learned in the eight years of the Derby Devils is how really hard this is to learn. We can't just have a tryout with nothing to offer before or after," explains Fear Abby, whose day name is Dana Felty Bynum. "Even talented skaters weren't passing the minimum skate requirements. We're giving people what I wish I'd had eight years ago."
Once a whirling maelstrom in the Devils line-up, Fear/Bynum has slowed it down a tad in recent years with the birth of her son, Carter. She's still a vital cog in the organization, though she has left the active leadership to SDD co-presidents Ira Fuse (Kim Norrell) and Emm Jay (Melissa Norman) and is focusing on recruitment and the wRECk League.
"I had this vision of breaking an arm and not being able to hold this baby," she says of her departure from the All-Stars. "There's definitely this sense of self-preservation that I did not have before."
But she makes clear that Fear Abby's retirement is only temporary. Though the team has recruited more women in their 20s like Dr. Zechar, Bynum, at 38, is nowhere near ready to hang up the pads.
"We have women in their 40s and they're still out for blood."
Savannah Derby Devils vs. Tragic City Rollers
When: First bout 5 p.m.; main event 7 p.m. Saturday, April 20
Where: Savannah Civic Center arena
Cost: $16 adult, kids $2; $62 season pass available through April 20.